Monday, December 18, 2017

Brands, Consumers Driving Force Behind Sustainable Practices in Cotton

For several years, we’ve written a lot about how a small group of innovative cotton growers in the Valley have led the way in sustainable farming practices. 

Slowly but surely their support and advocacy is catching on. Just look at some of the headlines:
“Millennials Driving Brands to Practice Socially Responsible Marketing” – in March 2017.

“Sustainable Style: Will Gen Z Help the Fashion Industry Clean Up its Act?” – The U.S. edition of The Guardian of Britain on April 2017.

“How Clothing Brands are Embracing Transparency to Meet the Growing Demand for Sustainable Apparel” – Adweek in May 2017.

This trend is taking off and becoming a driving force in getting cotton growers to embrace sustainable farming practices, according Stephen Harmer, of Jess Smith & Sons Cotton, a Bakersfield cotton marketer.

Stephen Harmer of Jess Smith & Sons discusses sustainability.
“There is this huge shift going on,” Stephen told a group of fashion brand representatives attending this fall’s Cotton Farm Tour sponsored by the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP). 

The 75.4 million millennials – the up and coming generation ages 20 to 36 – are behind this dynamic market trend.

Cotton bales are ready to be shipped to a warehouse.
“They want to see a sustainable product that they are purchasing. They want to see traceability. We see more demand for sustainable fiber, whether it is organic, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton or Cleaner Cotton™. “More and more you are seeing sustainable products that are traced all the way back to the farmer. That is very common now. I think it will continue to grow.”

Gins use bale tags identifies the source of the cotton.
SCP has a long track record working with Valley growers to produce trademarked Cleaner Cotton™. SCP works with growers to follow best management practices and avoid using the most toxic chemicals used to produce their cotton crop. 
BCI is a global program in which growers adhere to various sustainable standards. Only SCP’s Cleaner Cotton™ can be traced back to the grower.

Jess Smith sells the growers’ cotton directly to textile mills, which allows the marketer to generate premiums for the farmer as well as provide assurance the fiber has been grown sustainably and can betraced back to the farm. The company markets both Cleaner Cotton™ and BCI cotton as well as conventional cotton.  
Dan McCurdy is a Cleaner Cotton and BCI grower.

Another selling point: The Valley’s reputation for growing some of the highest quality cotton in the world.  “Cotton is the longest and stronger fiber in the entire world. It is by far the most sustainable crop in the entire world.”

North Face's Backyard Hoodie made with Cleaner Cotton.
Stephen predicts China will become a bigger buyer of cotton in the coming years. China, he says, “is very pro U.S. cotton. They want to buy high quality, traceable, machine picked good quality cotton fiber, which primarily is grown in the USA, Brazil and Australia. We have a very positive outlook for cotton in the next three to five years.”

“BCI and Cleaner Cotton™ are becoming much more popular in the market,” Stephen says. “It is being driven by the brands and the consumers that are looking for the sustainable product.”
Because of this consumer trend, Stephen anticipates more conventional cotton growers turning to sustainable cotton production practices.

“You get a little push back from some (growers),” he said. But he adds that “a lot of them are smart enough to know if the brands and the consumer are pushing for this then they eventually are going to jump on board. The whole industry is really turning in a good direction.”

(Season’s Greetings from the Central Valley Farm Scout. We’re taking a break for the holidays and will be back and better than ever after the New Year.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

For Bugs There’s No Place Like Hedgerows in the Valley

Everyone needs a home – even bugs.

And if you create a permanent residence, bugs will come by the hundreds and thousands. So will mammals and birds.

Well, the owners of Windfall Farms of Firebaugh this year planted a new home for bugs in the Valley. It piggybacks on one planted years ago west of Interstate 5 – touted as the southernmost perennial hedgerow in the Central Valley.

Grower Mark Fickett  describes the perennial hedgerow.
 “The idea is to have a natural insectuary ,” said Mark Fickett of Windfall Farms. “There are a lot of beneficial insects around the hedgerow. It can reduce the amount of chemicals we use on a given crop.”

Mark and long-time business partner Frank Williams have been big fans of perennial hedgerows. Their first was a half-mile long stand of trees, shrubs and perennial grasses surrounded by farm fields and orchards. The hedgerow even boasted redwoods and sequoias.

Farm tour visitors inspect a fledgling hedgerow.
Now, they have planted a new one east of Interstate 5 – a quarter-mile long row of fledgling vegetation, including California buckwheat, oak, deer grass, sugarbush, coyote brush, rosemary, toyon, lavender, incense cedar, live oak and royal purple sage. Drip lines keep the plants irrigated.

Hedgerows are good things. Their benefits include air and water quality protection, weed control, protection against soil erosion, increased biodiversity and beneficial insect activity. They also provide shelter for mammals, insects and birds as well as nectar for bugs and birds..

 “There is certainly lot more that we can do,” Frank says. The farm plans do more planting to extend the hedgerow another quarter mile.

“This is beautiful,” Dr. Pete Goodell, UC IPM emeritus, said after visiting the new hedgerow. “This one of the largest ones of mixed habitat that I have seen in the state.”

Pete studied the first hedgerow extensively, monitoring insects on a monthly basis for a year.
Shrubs, trees and perennial grasses populate the hedgerow.
For Pete, hedgerows diversify the local ecosystem and provide what he calls eco-services to the area. What he means is the hedgerow can be different things at different times of the year to insects, mammals and birds. 

“It’s really interesting to see the shift in insects,” Pete said. “There is something blooming here year round. There is always a pollinator that comes through.”

Hedgerows are more common on farms in the Sacramento Valley, Central Coast and Bay Area and rare in the Central Valley. Experts say more research is needed to prove the absolute benefits of hedgerows. 

“I am sure there is some benefit,” Frank says. 

University of California study in 2011 reported hedgerows attracted more beneficial insects than pests and suggested growers replace weedy areas at the crop field edges with planted hedgerows. The idea is to enhance natural pest management and reduce the need for pesticides.
Another benefit: Hedgerows are aesthetically pleasing.

“This will continue to be a nice place to be,” Pete says of the new hedgerow. As the vegetation matures over time, he says, it will be common for a “truck or two to stop and enjoy it.”

Sunday, December 3, 2017

SJ Valley Almond Growers Checking To-Do List Twice

The holidays are fast approaching and everyone knows ol’ St. Nick is making his list and checking it twice.

So too are Valley almond growers. They’re also are making their list and checking it twice to ensure all the late fall and early winter chores on the to-do list are completed as almonds head into the dormant season.

“This is a good time to get your work done in the orchards before the winter rains arrive and the ground gets too muddy,” says field scout Jenna Mayfield. “Growers also should follow best management practices to prepare their orchards for next season.”

Jenna offers her own list of chores:

·         * Survey the trees to make sure there are no more than two mummy nuts per tree by February 1. Jenna points out University of California researchers have found ignoring winter mummy nut sanitation leads to higher populations of overwintering navel orangeworm and greater kernel damage at harvest time.

·         * Inspect drip irrigation lines and sprinkler heads and make the necessary repairs. Growers don’t want to wait until they start irrigating next season and discover their drip lines are damaged.

Now is the time to repair drip systems.
·        *  Fix the potholes on access roads. Growers can scrap the dirt and level to smooth the roadway.
·         * Remove loose or broken bark caused by shakers. These nooks could become winter havens for pests.
·       *   Survey the orchard floor for weeds and identify those that were not controlled by a fall preemergent treatment. Record the findings. UC Integrated Pest Management says growers should consider applying a post-emergent treatment in January.

Here are other chores identified by UC IPM:

·         * Take a dormant spur sample for scale and mite eggs from now until mid-January. Make sure to record the findings. Treat if necessary.
·        *  Check trees for hiding places for peach twig borer. If treatment is needed, use a more environmentally friendly material or put off treatment until bloom.
·        *  Monitor for rust in orchards with almond varieties that keep their leaves. Treatment would come in the spring.
Growers have a long to-do list for winter chores.
·      *    Watch for gophers and mound-building activity.
By following these practices, Jenna says, growers will enhance their pest control activities while avoiding environmental problems related to pesticide use. It’s time to get to work because there’s only 17 working days before winter.