Monday, April 24, 2017

After Catching Bugs for Many Years, Field Scout Will Be Hanging up His Sweep Net

Field scout Carlos Silva has collected lots of bugs populating cotton and alfalfa fields across the San Joaquin Valley since 2013.

It’s tough to quantify the number, but you can safety estimate the pest count number in the tens of thousands. “I really enjoyed looking for bugs,” he says.

Catching an assassin bug and lots of aphids.
He’s seen blue alfalfa aphids, cowpea aphids, cotton aphids, alfalfa loopers, lygus bugs, stink bugs, spider mites, beet armyworms, assassin bugs, alfalfa caterpillars, alfalfa weevils and Egyptian alfalfa weevils to name a few.

After combing the fields the past four years, Carlos is hanging up his sweep net from the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project (SJSFP). He is joining the Better Cotton Initiative as a local staff member of the international nonprofit organization, which has its main global offices in London and Geneva, Switzerland. 

Dos Palos resident Damien Jelen will take over from Carlos, who in recent weeks has been showing Damien the ropes and the way around the many SJSFP-enrolled cotton and alfalfa fields. Jenna Mayfield continues as SJSFP’s almond field scout.

 “We are very pleased for Carlos and think it’s a great new job for him,” says Marcia Gibbs, Director of SJSFP, a program of the Sustainable Cotton Project. “We want to thank Carlos for four years of good work and dedication to our project. “
Field scouts Carlos Silva and Jenna Mayfield picking cotton.

Carlos says he won’t forget the field scout experience. “It has been great working with everyone. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the program staff, growers and University of California extension and farm advisors,” Carlos says.

Carlos enjoyed building relationships with local growers and seeing how they farm up close. He is impressed by the dedication and resiliency of growers during the drought.

Carlos uses his sweep net to snag bugs in an alfalfa field.
“They were really tested during the drought,” he says. Yet, they found ways to farm with tight water supplies, combat pests and manage their operations to stay afloat.

He also cites the expertise and dedication of UC extension advisors for helping growers deal with water, pest and disease management issues as well as developing innovative farm practices.
Carlos says he will miss his daily rounds scouting cotton and alfalfa fields. One thing he won’t miss: “the 110-degree weather.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

Cotton Plant Stands Out Among Other Major Crops

Cotton planting is in full swing across the Valley.

Over the coming months, we’ll be describing the life and times of the cotton plant. It’s an interesting tale as you follow the development and growth of cotton. Experts consider the plant structure to be one of the most complex structures of the major field crops.

The plant’s growth follows a predictable pattern based on days. For example, the plant emerges from the ground around four to nine days after planting. The first square develops in 27 to 38 days. And so on until cotton is ready for harvest some 130 to 160 days later.

Cotton plant structure is complex. Roots go deep into ground.
Of course, the predictability is based on favorable growing conditions. Moreover, cotton is unique because it is extremely sensitive to unfavorable environmental conditions. That means Mother Nature plays an important role in cotton’s development. Oftentimes, the story of cotton will take twists and turns on the way to the fall harvest.

For instance, field scout Jenna Mayfield notes that the Valley certainly has had its share of yo-yoing weather this month. There are the April showers. There are the warm 80-degree days followed by 60-degree daytime highs.

“The weather has had some wild swings this month,” Jenna says. She wonders if this weather will impact the little cotton seedlings that have started to emerge. In some fields, Jenna has seen some off-colored seedlings.

Growers will be measuring stand development soon.
We’ll see soon as growers start assessing stand establishment to determine how well the crop is doing.  This evaluation is done by comparing the plant population per foot with the seedling rate per foot. The results will help growers see if the stand is optimal, weak or excessive.Generally the optimal stand establishment is 40,000 to 60,000 plants per acre; weak is below 30,000; and excessive is more than 60,000.

Here is what UC IPM says:
  • If the stand is weak, monitor for and identify any pests such as seedling diseases or seedling insects associated with poor stands.
  •  If the stand is unacceptable or if there are multiple adjacent rows without plants, your main management option is to replant.
  • If the stand is excessive, thinning may be required. Dense plant populations, combined with conditions of adequate moisture and nutrients, can lead to rank growth, making the crop more vulnerable to insects and diseases. Depending on the cotton variety, a plant stand in excess of 60,000 plants per acre may require thinning.
UC IPM provides a guide on how to estimate the plant population.
Happy counting.

Monday, April 10, 2017

April Showers Brings Almond Diseases Across the Valley

Farming is like Mother Nature – unpredictable.

That’s certainly true with the gusty winds and April showers buffeting the Valley rich farm lands lately.

Growers spraying fungicides to battle almond diseases.
The on-again and off-again winter-like springtime weather has almond growers working feverishly to battle plant fungi that can trigger a variety of diseases in almonds.

Field scout Jenna Mayfield reports growers applying fungicides at a steady clip to prevent crop-damaging diseases.

University of California IPM advisors point out disease-causing fungi is present in almond orchards all the time. The amount depends on the environmental conditions and the level the previous season. A good disease management program hinges on the choice of fungicides, timing and coverage. It also depends on the grower’s assessment of the disease problem.  Fungicides should be chosen carefully to address the specific problem. Advisors also note it’s good to rotate fungicides use in the orchard.

Here are some of the common diseases in almonds:
Brown rot
Growers usually treat for brown rot at least once during bloom. The brown rot fungus attacks the tree by invading the anthers and pistils of the flower when it is open. The fungus then can kill the spur or shoot.
The most susceptible variety is Butte followed by Carmel. Nonpareil is one of the least susceptible varieties for brown rot.

Shot hole
Almonds infected by shot hole.
Wet years are the most favorable conditions for shot hole to develop. This fungus requires water for all its activities, so periods of extended rainfall create a situation that favors shot hole disease epidemics.
The disease can lead to lesions on leaves and fruit, which emerge at the leaf bud. Infected leaves can lead to defoliation. By May, the almond hull develops enough to resist a shot hole infection.

Evidence of scab on a almond leaf.
In the past, scab wasn’t a concern for growers locally. But in recent years, the problem has become more serious. The fungus causes black spots on the fruit, leaves and shoots.  Scab can defoliate a tree quickly. Fungicide treatment is effective two to five weeks after bloom.

Rust also can cause defoliation. High humidity will trigger rust as well as scab problems. Rust and scab emerges in late spring or early summer. The fungus attacks the leaves, but not the fruit. Rust is controlled by one or two applications of sulfur in late spring.
Monitor for Alternaria leaf spot now.

Leaf spot
Alternaria leaf spot is another defoliating disease, which surfaces in early summer and causes lesions on leaves. Carmel, Nonpareil, Butte, Sonora, Mission and Peerless varieties are the most susceptible varieties. UC IPM says growers should look for signs of leaf spot from April through June. If alternaria is discovered, treatment should start around mid-April.

  Of course, spotting these diseases requires regular monitoring of orchard conditions.  “Putting your boots on the ground is the best way to fight diseases and pests,” Jenna says.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Increased Water Supplies Bode Well for Cotton Rebound

With April now here, it’s time for the cotton season to ramp up in the San Joaquin Valley.

This is the time when growers begin cotton planting and start the clock ticking for the fall harvest. Typically, it takes 180 to 200 days for cotton to be ready for picking.

The weather has been warming up with some days topping 80 degrees. The blazing spring sun makes it feel even warmer.

Cotton planting will be in full swing in the Valley this month.
Field scout Jenna Mayfield saw some early-bird growers planting at the end of March.  These growers anticipate seedlings popping out of the ground soon, especially with the warmer weather upon us.

“Cotton is getting started. A lot of other crops are being planted, too,” Jenna said. 

As we mentioned earlier, the word in the field is growers expect to increase the cotton acreage because of the extremely wet winter and increased water allocations. That’s good news after five years of drought and little to no water allocations allowed by regulators.
The Eastside Bypass was full of water from the winter storms.

This winter’s rains have meant most of the Valley is out of the drought – except for the Westside, which is usually drier than the rest of the region. 

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced it will deliver 65 percent of water to suppliers such as the Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water provider. Westlands serves cotton growers in western Fresno County. 

Last year, the allocation was 5 percent and no water allocation was allotted for 2014 and 2015. The district was banking on a full delivery and issued a statement saying it was still disappointed by the initial allocation during a near-record rainfall year, adding growers will continue to resort to groundwater supplies to make up the difference.

In other water news, state Department of Water Resources surveyors headed up U.S. Highway 50 near Echo Summit and took their monthly measurement of the snowpack water content. The results: 183 percent above average for this time of year. Last year, the mountain was bare.

Measuring the snowpack.. (Dept. of Water Resources photo)
State climatologist Michael Anderson said while snowfall fell off significantly in March “California enters the snowmelt season with a large snowpack that will result in high water in many rivers through the spring.”

Growers are hoping the bountiful snowmelt will prompt federal officials to boost the final water allocation.  Still, farmers are glad about the increased water availability after dealing with years of drought. 

While cotton is just getting started, some alfalfa growers have started to do their first cutting of the season. There should be no problem for the alfalfa season to extend into the fall. In 2015, some growers stopped harvesting their alfalfa in the early summer, choosing to divert their precious water supplies to more profitable crops.
“Things are looking good for alfalfa,” field scout Carlos Silva says.