Monday, January 30, 2017

Wind, Rain and Fungus Alert for Valley Almond Growers

It’s been wet – enough to give the Valley farm land a nice soaking.

It’s been windy – enough to topple weakened, but once productive trees.

Storm clouds give way to a rainbow over an almond orchard.
Even so, we pretty much survived the gusty winds that reached up to 33 mph and the more than 1.6 inches of rain that battered the Fresno region a week ago.

“We had such crazy rain and crazy wind,” says almond field scout Jenna Mayfield. “We haven’t seen such weather in years.”

So far, more than 6 inches of rain has fallen this month – nearly double the amount a year ago. Of course, we all remember how a meager .2 inches fell in January 2015 and a quarter inch during the first month of 2014.

Yes, after five years of drought, everyone has welcomed the rain. And despite the inclement weather, Jenna points out almond orchards survived fairly well – with only some trees along the margins that were already weakened by years of dry weather being uprooted by the winds.

Almond tree toppled by the wind.
The rains also bring worries. Almond growers are starting to think about fungicide treatment to protect their trees against diseases. 

“Fungus can be spread by the wind,” Jenna said. Because of this year’s weather, “we may have problems that we haven’t experienced before with fungus.”

University of California farm advisors point out that almond orchards always have fungi present that can cause diseases. The amount depends on the previous year’s disease level and the current weather conditions.

It’s important to be proactive, especially this stormy winter. A good disease control program hinges on a combination of choosing the appropriate fungicides and good timing and coverage. Proper identification of the disease in the orchard will dictate the selection of materials.

Here is the impact of armillaria root rot on an almond tree.
Remember, not all fungicides are equally effective on diseases. Growers should use more than one variety of fungicide to broaden the effectiveness.  Jenna says growers should consult UC’s fungicide efficacy table to help with fungicide selection.

Jenna also points out the return of a wet weather pattern this winter should make it an interesting year on the tree disease and pest front.

 It could be the winds and rains will impact the overwintering pests and keep those numbers down this upcoming season. It also could be this year’s winter storms could trigger disease problems.

“Growers will have to be really vigilant and monitor their orchards closely this year,” Jenna says.  In farming, it is safe to say that every year brings a new surprise.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tapping Online Resources: Learning about Pesticide Resistance in Agriculture

Need information about pesticide use? Looking for tips about water conservation?

There is a good chance you’ll find the answers via your smart phone, tablet or personal computer. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to highlight some useful online resources covering timely farm topics.

This week, we cover pesticide resistance management.  First, let’s give you a little background.

Following the introduction of synthetic organic insecticides in the 1940s, such as DDT, it was not long before the first cases of resistance were detected and by 1947, resistance to DDT was confirmed in houseflies.

DDT was an early case of pesticide resistance.
Thereafter, with every new insecticide introduction, cyclodienes, organophosphates, carbamates, formamidines, pyrethroids, Bacillus thuringiensis, spinosynsandneonicotinoids, cases of resistance appeared some 2 to 20 years after their introduction in a number of key pest species.

Spraying in an almond orchard.
This phenomenon has been described as the “pesticide treadmill” and the sequence is familiar. As a result of continued applications over time the pest evolves resistance to the insecticide and the resistant strain becomes increasingly difficult to control at the labeled rate and frequency. This in turn has often led to more frequent applications of the insecticide.

The intensity of the resistance and the frequency of insecticide-resistant individuals in the population increase problems of control which continue to worsen as yet more product is applied. Eventually users switch to another pesticide if one is available. The genetics of theheritable resistance traits and the intensive repeated application of pesticides together are responsible for the rapid build-up of resistance in most insects and mites.

 Pesticide resistance management is an effort to slow or prevent the development of resistance. It relies on pest management and pesticide-use strategies to prolong the effective life of pesticides.

Pesticide Resistance (from IRAC website – Insecticide Action Resistance Committee)

Spraying taking place in a cotton field.
The Insecticide Action Resistance Committee (IRAC) offers a video that is a grower-focused, animated and diagrammatic explanation of insecticide resistance and its management from CropLife International and the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee. The video is available in English, Chinese, Mandarin, Spanish or Portuguese.

The University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program offers an online course featuring the latest advances in pest management and related topics. Some courses are approved by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation for continuing education credits. Some also are approved for credit from the Structural Pest Control Board.

Here are links the UC online training, the publicationsand events and workshops sites.

The online learning courses are geared toward pest control advisers and other licensed pesticide applicators to teach about fungicide resistance, insecticide resistance, and herbicide resistance.  It provides information on the mechanisms of pesticide resistance and how it has developed as well as information on managing or delaying resistance.

The Sustainable Cotton Project website provides online links  to various grower resources.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Farmers Embracing Practices to Sustain Valley Agriculture Well into the Future

You probably have heard the words “sustainable” and “sustainability” bantered about in recent years.

Google “sustainable agriculture” and you’ll discover lots of descriptions and definitions.
Here’s how the University of California, Davis Sustainable Agriculture and Research and Education Program defines it: “The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Every person involved in the food system -- growers, food processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, and waste managers --  
can play a role in ensuring a sustainable agricultural system.”

Wow. Academics probably spent a long time coming up with that description.
So how does this play out for real farmers? 

Well, it can mean something as basic as learning to use fewer chemicals on crops, which translates into saving money while keeping our waterways cleaner.

A natural habit can keep provide an alternative home for pests.
It can mean planting hedgerows and natural habitats in fields to attract good bugs that will prey on crop-damaging pests. 

It can mean leaving uncut strips of alfalfa in a field to keep pests from migrating to nearby cotton fields.

Or it can mean knocking off mummy nuts from almond trees after harvest to keep overwintering pests from wreaking havoc on the next season’s crop.

Fortunately, Valley growers don’t have to go very far to learn more about sustainable agriculture.
Leaving a strip of uncut alfalfa helps keeps lygus out of cotton.
For years, there has been a group of local growers that have been following these practices and learning about new innovations. They are doing so by participating in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project (SJSFP).

The program helps growers broaden sustainable farming practices by providing educational programs and weekly reports about pests in their fields or orchards as well as connecting them with long-time farmers and leading UC agriculture experts.

SJSFP currently is seeking new almond, alfalfa and cotton growers in Merced, Madera and Fresno counties for the 2017 season.

By enrolling in the program, growers learn valuable strategies to improve yields while becoming better environmental stewards in today’s tough economic and regulatory climate. Over the years, the program and its growers have gained recognition nationally and internationally.  Growers will receive these benefits:
·         SCP field scouts who work with growers’ existing pest control advisors to augment field scouting.
·         Field days focusing on pest and crop management issues, crop diseases and management, biological farming and water and regulatory issues.
·         Access to top leading farm advisors and integrated pest management experts, who will help farmers deal with current issues ranging from pest and disease management to irrigation.
·         Best Management Practices implementation planning and annual hedgerow seeds and beneficial insects, when needed.
·         Access to veteran growers who have integrated sustainable farming practices into their operations.
UCCE Fresno County farm advisor Dan Munk talks at field day.
 Here what a couple of growers say about the program:

“They are at the cutting edge of what is going on. It has been a great experience.”

“You get together with other growers and find out about different things. It’s outstanding to have access to that kind of expert knowledge.”

For more information or to inquire about enrolling, you can contact SCP Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or

SJSFP operates under the direction of the Sustainable Cotton Project, a California nonprofit that has worked with San Joaquin Valley growers for more than a decade to produce an environmentally friendly Cleaner Cotton™ for the consumer market.

Drought update:
We want to follow up on last week’s post about the storms and the No. 1 topic among farmers: Water.
The heavy rain and snow that slammed the Sacramento Valley and Sierra last week brought good news for Northern California. Last Thursday, federal officials declared the five-year drought all but over for the North State. "Bye bye drought ... Don't let the door hit you on the way out," the National Weather Service's office in Reno tweeted. That’s good news for Northern California growers.

But it’s too early to celebrate around here. The Central Valley and Southern California still aren’t out of the woods. The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor reported nearly 60 percent of the state remains in a drought – compared to 97 percent last year. The Weather Service still lists the Central Valley in a severe drought.

Well, there’s still a month and a half left in the wet season. Let’s see if Mother Nature sends those big storms further south and says “Bye bye” to the drought the state’s farm basket.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Rain, Snow, Drought and the Economic Impact on Valley Ag

It’s a New Year and Valley farmers are busy preparing for the 2017 season.

Some might have been looking toward the sky for some insights.

In fact, many probably were following the series of storms that swept across the North State, dumping lots of snow.

As we mentioned last month, the burning question around these parts remains water. As in how much water will be available and how much the water will cost.

This has been the most critical issue this decade because of the prolonged five-year drought that has had a stronghold on the Golden State. For Valley agriculture, the water crisis has had a dramatic economic impact.

The five-year drought forced farmers to leave fields fallow.
In an economic report released last fall by the Westlands Water District – the big water provider in our area – the lack of water allocations has forced farmers to resort to more expensive groundwater to cover the shortfall, take prime ag land out of production and switch their crop mix, often to those that command higher prices such as almonds. The increased use of groundwater also has boosted salinity levels in the soil, which in turn affects the crops.

The loss in acreage has cost 5,200 farm jobs and an overall loss of $650 million in economic output, according to the report called “The Economic Impact of the Westlands Water District on the Regional and Local Economy.”

While a drought-busting rainy season is unlikely under La Niña, everyone is hoping for Mother Nature to deliver some relief with a wet winter.

State Water surveyors check water content. (DWR photo)
However, the news was less than encouraging last Tuesday after crews from the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) traveled up the Sierra Nevada range near Echo Summit and checked the water content of the snowpack.

Surveyors reported the snow water equivalent of 6 inches, some 5.3 inches less than the averageearly-January measurements taken since 1964. January and February are the state’s wettest months. Frank Gehrke, the state’s snow survey chief, described the results as “a little gloomy.”

Shasta Lake is brimming with water from the rains and snows.
More telling is DWR’s electronic readings of 105recording stations across the Sierra. Those measurements indicated the water content was 68 percent of the average for this time of year.On the positive side, officials do point out that Shasta Lake , the state’s largest reservoir, currently is at 118 percent of its average.

Weekend rains and more wet weather predicted for the coming week are positive signs and could bolster the snowpack by the end of this month.

“Precipitation and storage are doing quite well compared to the past 5 years of historic drought conditions,” acting DWR Director Bill Croyle said in a statement. “That makes us cautiously optimistic about water conditions.”

We certainly hope so.