Monday, October 17, 2016

To Rain or Not to Rain, That is the Quandary in Farm Country

You might call it the October quandary for Central Valley farmers.

There’s no debating we need rain.  But growers still working the harvest will say we don’t need the rain – right now.

For farmers, they’re caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place, the hammer and anvil or Scyclla and Charybdis. Ok, you get the message.

Dark clouds loom over a cotton harvester.
California is in the midst of an historic five-year drought and the Golden State certainly welcomes any kind of rainfall. But growers in the backstretch of the fall harvest would prefer the wet stuff hold off for a while so they can finish harvesting cotton, sweeping up the last of the almonds drying on the ground and picking tomatoes and other crops.

“Whenever there is a change in weather things really pick up,” says almond field scout Jenna Mayfield. “Everyone is working 12 to 16 hours a day.”

Across the Valley, roadways and highways are buzzing with farm equipment at harvest time. Machines are moving from field to field or orchard to orchard. Other equipment is hauling harvested crops to packers or processors.

The skies darkened over the weekend as scattered showers fell throughout the Valley. Madera County received about an inch of rain while neighboring Merced County received around two-tenths of an inch of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Fresno only had a trace of rain.

Threatening skies can worry growers ready to harvest cotton.
While the rain wasn’t enough to cause major problems for farmers, the storms did signal a change to cooler day and night temperatures and unpredictable weather for the rest of the season. The threat of rain is one more thing to worry growers.

In past years – prior to the drought – we often saw October storms send Valley growers scrambling to harvest their cotton before rainfall. After the rains, growers delayed harvesting to allow the fiber and ground dry out.

“Growers are checking the weather forecast on a daily basis,” cotton field scout Carlos Silva says. The cotton wasn’t affected by the showers. However, Carlos adds, “If there is more rain ahead, they will be worried.”

So what happens if you get soggy cotton? First, it can become mildewy, like a wet towel left rolled up for several days. The lint can get spots or become discolored, which translates in a drop in quality and a cut in revenue.

If there are heavy rains and winds, bolls could drop or the lint could become strung out and fall onto the ground. Wet cotton also can gum up the spindles on the harvesters. It also can clog machinery at the gins. If the ground becomes saturated, the machinery can get stuck.

For almond growers who finished their harvest, windy wet weather still poses a threat right now. Trees remain full of leaves. “We haven’t had a lot of cool days,” Jenna notes.

Wet leaves and wind can lead to broken tree limbs.
Cold weather is nature’s way of telling trees winter is approaching and it’s time to shed their leaves.

Jenna also adds the winds have been picking up in the past week. Wet leaves can weigh down limbs and any wind gusts can snap them right off. Trees can even topple. In the long run, broken limbs and branches can add up to a drop in yield next year.

COTTON FARM TOUR: Want to get a behind-the-scenes look at California cotton production? The Sustainable Cotton Project’s annual Cotton Farm Tour is scheduled for Friday, October 21. Every year, dozens of people take advantage of this unique experience, where they can inspect the crop being harvested, tour a colored cotton field, see a perennial hedgerow and meet with farmers before visiting a cotton gin. If you can make it, please join us, and pass the information on to a friend or colleague. You canregister hereor contact SCP Program Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or for more information.
ALMOND FIELD DAY: Learn valuable tips about almond tree pruning, salinity management and controlling navel orangeworm during the fall and winter months at an October 28 field day in Fresno. The free event will be from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 West Shaw Ave. The featured speakers are: University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) pomologist and almond specialist David Doll of Merced County; UCCE Fresno County farm advisor Mae Culumber; and UC IPM advisor Kris Tollerup. You can contact Marcia for more information about the field day. Continuing education credits have been applied for.

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