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.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Time Nears for Cotton Flowers to Cut Out Their Growth

Plants can be like people. Both eventually mature and stop growing.

For cotton, maturity usually comes around late August. This is an important time for growers to make a crucial decision about their harvest date later in the fall.
Growers are planning for final cotton irrigation of the season.

With that, field scout Damien Jelen says “growers are getting ready for the final irrigation.”
Growth. Irrigation. What does this mean?

Here’s what local county UC Cooperative Extension farm advisers say: “Setting a desired harvest date is the primary step in determining final irrigation date. The field manager has to identify what flowering date corresponds with the last flower likely to be taken to maturity. In fields that progress toward cutout at early dates, proper timing of final irrigations can produce savings in applied water under some conditions without negative impacts on yield.”
Let’s do a little translating here. 

Here is an example of mature cotton nodes.
Cotton reaches maturity when the plants are at three to five Nodes Above White Flower (NAWF). This stage is called cutout, a time when cotton bolls are mature and about 95 percent of the crop has been set. Cutout is the final stage before the boll cracks open. It’s an important barometer for growers because cutout offers a good indication about the cotton yield at harvest time. 

To sum up, watching the plants progress toward and into cutout is one of the best indicators to decide the timing of the final irrigation date. Counting NAWF is a proven way to estimate the crops maturity and the start of cutout.

So how to you measure Nodes Above White Flower? Here’s what UC IPM says about measuring Nodes Above White Flower:
  • Select a minimum of 5 plants with a first-position flower from each of four different areas in the field.
  • Count the node with a first-position flower as zero and move toward the terminal.
  • Record the total nodes above white flower for all of the samples.
  • Record the number of plants sampled.
  • Divide the total number of nodes by the total number of plants sampled.
If the terminal node has a leaf associated with it of at least 1 inch in diameter, consider it a new node, UC IPM says. Now it’s time to get your calculator out and start counting.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Almond Growers Poised to Get Crackin’ on the Harvest and Taking Harvest Samples

The orchard is some 50 miles west of Fresno, 37 miles west of Raisin City and 20 miles southwest of Mendota. It borders the Westside Freeway, better known to most travelers as Interstate 5.

The locale also is the first almond orchard that field scout Jenna Mayfield spotted this season shaking nuts off the trees. “They usually are the first area to start harvesting almonds,” Jenna said, citing the combination of hot weather and a dry climate as reasons for the earlierharvest start than other areas in the Valley.

Westside almond orchards are the first to be harvested.
So we can officially say the almond harvest has begun. From now until early fall, growers will be busy shaking and sweeping in their orchards. More specifically, that’s shaking trees to knock off the nuts, letting them dry on the ground for about a week and then sweeping up the nuts to haul to the huller.

“It’s going to get busier for growers,” Jenna says.

You might liken the almond harvest as a marathon rather than a sprint. Because more than one variety of almonds is planted in orchards, growers will go in more than once to shake the trees. Of course, that means crews have to pick up the almonds more than once as well.

The soft shell varieties, especially nonpareils, ripen early and are the first to harvest. The hard shells such as Monterey ripen later and usually are harvested some40 to 60 days later. In fact, Jenna points out hulls of hard shell almonds aren’t even close to showing a sign of splitting.

Almonds drying on the ground are waiting to be gathered.
Right now, a number of growers are still wrapping up pre-harvest spraying, especially for mites. “The mite pressure is increasing,” Jenna notes.

Yes the to-do list is long for growers this time of year. “There are so many things to do,” Jenna says.

Foremost, according to UC Integrated Pest Management advisers, is moving to harvest as early as possible. As we mentioned earlier, almonds should be harvested when at least 95 percent of the hulls have split. The longer the nuts stay in the orchard the greater chance pests will move in and damage the crop.

While drying the nuts on the orchard floor is
important, it also is vital to pick them up as quickly as possible. “Ants are major pest threat

for nuts on the ground,” Jenna says.

Jenna also reminds growers to do one more task before gathering the nuts off the ground: Take nut samples. No, we’re not talking about Costco-like samples being handed out to snack on.

Almond kernels with NOW damage.
In this case, sampling involves collecting nuts from the ground and cracking them open to check for pest damage. A harvest sample lets growers assess the pest management program this season and lets them plan for next year. The results offer insights about damage from navel orangeworm, peach twig border, fruit moths or ants during the harvest process. The information also can be compared with numbers from the processor. Discrepancies could be costly for growers.

To collect samples, Jenna snatches up about 70 nuts from three different orchard locations, areas where pest traps have been placed. This lets her compare the damage with the pest information collected from the traps during the season. Later, she’ll crack each nut to inspect them for evidence of pests and pest damage and report the results to growers,

While Jenna and UC advisors regularly urge growers take samples, the practice isn’t widely practiced. Sampling, Jenna says, makes sense and will pay financial dividends in the long run
So let’s get cracking on those harvest samples.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cotton Aphid Population Explodes Seemingly Out of the Blue in Some Communities

It’s a funny thing about Mother Nature.

One day, everything is going just fine for farmers. A few days later it was another story.

Aphids are showing up in big numbers in some Valley fields.
Cotton field scout Damien Jelen offers a prime example how nature can throw a sudden curveball at farmers. After completing one of his scouting rounds in cotton, Damien noted aphid populations were under control. A few days later, “aphid numbers kind of exploded. They have become a problem,” he says.
The aphid issue appears most prevalent in the Mendota Firebaugh and Kerman areas of the Valley. It’s hard to say why the problem is concentrated in this region.

Experts say the higher populations often surface after heavy watering and fertilizer applications. That may be the case here because the outbreak surfaced a few days after irrigation, Damien says.Certainly, growers are less focused on the why and more focused on the how – like how am I going to stem the infestation. Damien points out the answer has been swift pest treatment. 

Cotton leaf curling is a sign of aphid damage.
Their reasoning: During mid-season, high aphid numbers – more than 50 per leaf – can shrink the size of bolls, stunt plant growth and cause more bolls to be shed from the plant, according to the University of California Integrated Pest Management.

Growers know they have a problem when leaves become cupped or crinkled and experience a build-up of honeydew and sooty mold. In extreme cases, the leaves will start falling off.
The cotton aphid is the most common aphid in California. They can emerge anytime during the season. Here how UC IPM describes the pest: 

Dark colored aphids can reproduce very quickly.
“Cotton aphid is highly variable in body size and color, and adults may be winged or wingless. Nymphs and adults of wingless cotton aphids vary in color from yellow to green to nearly black. The darker forms tend to be substantially larger. Nymphs that are developing into winged adults look very different from the nymphs developing into wingless adults: they bear small welts or protuberances on their bodies and may be covered with a coat of dusty-appearing whitish wax. Their body color is often greenish blue, or amber and blue.”

It’s important to determine the color of the bugs in the field. “The small yellow aphids develop slowly from newborn nymph to adult and do not produce many offspring; thus, their populations rarely increase rapidly. The larger, darker aphids (green and black) are quite different; they develop more rapidly, produce many more offspring in a rapid burst, and can generate rapid population growth rates,” UC IPM says.

The minute pirate bug is a natural enemy to aphids.
 Natural enemies such as minute pirate bugs, bigeyed bugs, green lacewings and damsel bugs can offer some biological control. But UC IPM notes that “although these natural enemies do provide some control, they generally are not able to strongly suppress aphid populations, or cause strong suppression after severe damage has occurred to the plant.”
Meanwhile on the almond front, field scout Jenna Mayfield says pest pressure is down in orchards.
Hulls continue to split and growers are treating for mites on the edge of the orchards where the pest often wind up after migrating from neighboring farms and dusty roads.“I haven’t seen any pest issues,” Jenna says. She also hasn’t seen any shakers rumbling through orchards. “Everyone is waiting to harvest.”
Growers are still waiting to shake their trees.