Monday, September 18, 2017

Harvest Thunders Ahead After Storm Roars Through Valley

Summer ends in four days.

You would have thought autumn had already arrived last week after fall-like weather roared through the northern San Joaquin Valley, knocking down power lines, trees and fences – as well cotton bolls in the fields and almonds in the trees. Toss in a bit of rain and you have yourself some weird weather.
Despite the thunderstorm and gusty winds, almonds and cotton emerged pretty much unscathed, according to field scouts Jenna Mayfield and Damien Jelen.

“There was a lot of rain in Firebaugh. Some bolls came off the cotton plants,” Damien says. 

Jenna points out almond trees are used to being jostled. Mechanical shakers roughhouse trees more than a little wind, she says.Still, some nuts were blown off the trees. But in a way, Mother Nature helped some growers with orchard sanitation by knocking off would-be mummy nuts.

For certain, the thunderstorm generated a little coffee shop talk and a small diversion from the daily chores. Now back to reality.

“We’re still full blown with the harvest,” Jenna says. “I’ve collected nut samples and put them in cold storage.”

 Later this fall, Jenna will get cracking on examining the samples to check on the amount of pest damage experienced in project orchards. This evaluation will help growers with their pest management plans next season.

Right now, spider mites have exploded in orchards. Mites reproduce quickly during the warm summer months and produce eight to 10 generations each season. The pests will damage the foliage, butthe problems show up next season – reduced crop yield and vegetative growth.

In cotton, growers continue to ramp up defoliation activities, Damien says. Fields are treated twice before the plants dry out enough for harvest. About two weeks after the final treatment, the cotton is ready to be picked. October certainly will be a busy month for harvesters.

 Meanwhile, Damien reminds growers to stay vigilant for aphids, white fly and mites, which can lead to sticky cotton. “You continue to worry about these pests until the plants are defoliated.”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

By land and By Air: Cotton Growers Start Defoliating Fields Across the Valley

These days, you might see spray rigs driving through green cotton fields. Or you might find airplanes buzzing over the fields around the Valley.
A tractor rig applying defoliants in a cotton field.
These sights, says field scout Damien Jelen, are the defoliation of the cotton fields.

While some began the process last week, Damien says more growers are ramping up this week and spraying defoliates on their cotton fields.

This flurry of activity signals that the fall harvest is around the corner.
Damien expects some harvesters to start picking cotton by the end of this month. “We can expect the harvest to go through Halloween.” 

Why do growers defoliate their cotton fields?

Some fields are defoliated by an airplane.
Defoliation is the last major field management decision that will affect the financial outcome of the crop. This process is necessary to prepare the crop for mechanical picking.

Defoliants are used to boost leaf drop and drying of the plant, which increases the timeliness and efficiency of the harvest. Growers that terminate their crop early are often trying to head off potential sticky cotton damage caused by growing white fly or aphid populations.

Here is a cotton field 12 hours after defoliants were applied..
Successful defoliation can improve cotton grades by lessening staining and trash from the leaves, make harvesting faster, speed up drying, delay boll rot and even boost boll opening.
Some experts consider the proper timing for defoliation more of an art than a science. Crop maturity, field conditions, and the environment are factors that go into deciding when to defoliate.
Here’s what UC IPM considers the best conditions for defoliation:
  • Moderate to high air temperatures (daytime greater than or equal to 80 degrees, nighttime greater than 60 degrees)
  • Relatively low plant and soil nitrogen levels
  • Moderate soil water levels (plants not water stressed)
  • Relatively uniform crop development; plants at vegetative cutout with limited or no regrowth
  • Weeds, insects, and diseases under control
  • Ability to get good chemical coverage and penetration of the chemicals into the plant canopy
Growers can ask their pest control advisors and UC extension specialists for recommendations about defoliant products and application rates.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Almonds drying in the orchard trees … the very hot sun nipping on your nose

It’s hot. Very hot.
It’s so hot that almonds are literally drying on the trees, reports a sun-baked field scout Jenna Mayfield. Talk about dry roasted almonds!

“Everyone is dealing with the heat,” Jenna says. “The temperature doesn’t drop very much at night.”

The very hot weather is drying the almonds on the trees.
As August came to a close, the National Weather Service reported the Fresno area averaged 99.4 degreesfor the month. Triple digit temperatures dominated the final week of August and the start of September. We finally caught a break this week with temperatures dipping under the century mark.

“The almonds are drying in the trees because of the hot weather. It makes it pretty easy to shake the nuts off the trees,” Jenna says.

Heat waves are no surprise for the San Joaquin Valley. But this weather certainly stands out. For instance, the region hit a high of 109 on August 28, breaking the previous record of 108 degrees set in 1924. The 109 reached on the 29th tied the record high first set in 1915.

In some ways, the string of triple-digit temperatures is helping growers with orchard sanitation. The reason: More nuts are coming off the trees during mechanical shaking, improving the odds that growers won’t have to shake the trees a second time or come back to knock off mummy nuts in the winter.

Growers must wait for equipment to sweep up the almonds.
“This is an excellent way to do all your orchard sanitation at one time,” Jenna says. “You want to stay on top of this issue from now until mid-February.”

Normally, almonds often stay on the ground for a few days to dry. However, they should be swept up and hauled to the huller as soon as possible to avoid damage from pests, especially ants.

“I’ve seen so many ants. Growers are trying to pick up the nuts as fast as they can,” Jenna says.
But there is one problem, especially for smaller almond operations. Many of the same equipment operators who work in the almond orchards run equipment for other Valley crops. And once crews become available they often go to work first with the largerfarms before going to the smaller operations.

Jenna says it’s not unusual to see nuts lying on the ground for a number of days, waiting for a sweeper to become available to work the orchard. Such is the life of the little farmer.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Almonds Get Swept Up in the Two-Step Harvest

Shake. Sweep. Shake. Sweep.

No we’re not describing the Texas two step on the ballroom floor. Instead, we’re talking about the two steps Valley growers take to harvest their almonds.

Tree shaking is in full swing around the Central Valley.
Shake the nuts off the tree. Sweep up the fallen almonds and load them into a hauler. Shake. Sweep. Shake. Sweep.
We’ll see this harvest time two step go on into the fall, says field scout Jenna Mayfield.

“The nonpareils are being harvested now. The hulls on the hard shell varieties are still green. Those won’t be harvested until later,” Jenna says.

Soft shell varieties such as the nonpareil are the first to mature and be shaken off the tree. Considered one of the most versatile almonds, the nonpareil can be used anywhere. The smooth kernel allows for blemish-free processing.

But soft shell almonds are vulnerable to pest damage at this time. Jenna points out nonpareils don’t get a lot of time drying on the ground – maybe three to four days. The longer on the ground, the greater risk of damage from pests.

A sweeper collects almonds drying on the ground.
Jenna saysalmond growers continue to grapple with mites, whose populations can explode because of the hot summer we have experienced.

But as we approach the end of August, treating for mites won’t be necessary next month, according to University of California Integrated Pest Management. “Mites begin to migrate off trees to prepare for overwintering,” UC IPM says.
Whitefly can cause sticky cotton.
Meanwhile, field scout Damien Jelen says alfalfa is nearing the end of the season. Some growers anticipate getting one or even two more cuttings. Pests aren’t a worry since the season is winding down and the quality of the crop is lower this time of year.In cotton, some growers are considering irrigation because the hot weather is drying up the ground faster than anticipated.
“Cotton bolls are starting to open up,” Damien says. That means growers will be extra vigilant for a whitefly infestation, which can leave a sticky residue on the fiber.
“Growers are really keeping an eye out for sticky cotton,” Damien says.