California and Arizona grow produce that feeds the United States and the world. The diversity and value of the products grown in the West require a high level of technical expertise. The intensity of specialty agriculture must be balanced with concern for the environment to ensure sustainable crop production for generations to come. For these reasons, and more, it has never been a better time to add the Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) credential to the Pest Control Advisor license. The two credentials are complimentary.
The Pest Control Advisor (PCA) program consists of thousands of individuals who are licensed to make recommendations of restricted use pesticides in California and Arizona. The PCA program is a great career choice for individuals who want to make a living in agriculture. PCAs who want to provide the highest level of service to their growers should consider becoming a Certified Crop Advisor. There is nothing more important to a crop advisor than their reputation for making their growers successful. The deep knowledge of soil and water science and crop nutrition required to become a CCA means a grower is working with the most well-rounded crop advisor in the industry.
PCAs must study and display knowledge of integrated pest management (IPM) to receive their license. Integrated pest management emphasizes a holistic approach to controlling insects, weeds and diseases, relying on pesticides only when good farming practices can no longer contain the pest. However, the overall performance objectives for the PCA license are focused on laws and regulations pertaining to pesticides and don’t capture the breadth and complexity of agronomic practices outside of pesticide use. CCAs have the knowledge and experience to put IPM into practice. Growers know that good pesticide recommendations prevent loss of productivity but adding a balanced irrigation and nutrition program can result in gains in yield, quality and return on investment.
Keeping Up with Changing Times
CCAs must pass two challenging exams to obtain certification. The international exam tests the applicant’s general knowledge of soil and water science, nutrient management, crop production, and pest management. The state exam is more specific to management of irrigated specialty crops common across California and Arizona. Students in agricultural colleges who are interested in becoming CCAs should speak with their advisors about developing an appropriate curriculum that will help the candidate pass the exams. The West Region CCA Board has a program to subsidize the registration fees for the CCA exams for students. Check the West Region Certified Crop Advisors (WRCCA.org/exams) web site for more information. Candidates must have a Bachelor of Science in an agronomic field of study and two years of experience before they obtain certification. CCAs must stay up to date on current best agronomic practices by obtaining 40 continuing education hours every two years. When you are working with a PCA who also carries a CCA, you are working with the best.
Farming practices are constantly changing to meet new challenges. Over the 20 years, I have worked as an agronomist in California, trees and vines have replaced field crop acres and drip and micro-sprinklers have replaced flood and furrow irrigation. Growers switched from applying heavy doses of nitrogen fertilizer alone to balanced blends with lower total nitrogen applications, and they realized higher yields. Ironically, as growers’ efficiency has improved, so has increased scrutiny of nitrate pollution of ground and surface waters. In order to sustain the rich bounty of California agriculture into the future, documentation was needed to demonstrate that growers’ nitrogen fertilizer management practices were not contributing to ground water pollution.
The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) added ground water to the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) in 2012. Soon thereafter, farmer coalitions formed within watersheds to begin the process of collecting data on nitrogen management practices. It was apparent that many technically qualified agronomists were needed to accurately complete the nitrogen plans the coalitions would present to the SWRCB. Clearly, CCAs were the most qualified service providers when it came to nutrient management. Nitrogen management plans require soil testing, knowledge of a grower’s fertility plan, yield forecasts and final harvest totals. CCAs have been proven to be one of the most trusted sources of information by growers in surveys across the United States. CCAs were a perfect fit to help build the data required to manage nitrogen on a watershed scale. Thanks to language in the ILRP, the West Region CCA program has grown since 2014 to have the largest number of CCAs.
But being a CCA has benefits well beyond completing nitrogen management plans. Retail sales companies know that their business depends on strong fertilizer sales. A CCA understands how to use soil, water and plant tissue analysis to develop a balanced plant nutrition program that meets crop needs. Custom nutrient programs benefit the customer as they only spend money on necessary nutrients and maximize return on investment. Ag businesses benefit, in turn, as profitable farmers can pay their bills. Custom nutrition benefits the environment by applying the right fertilizer at the right time, place and rate to reduce waste.
Optimizing Soil, Water and Nutrients
Pesticide recommendations are made within a narrow regulatory framework and don’t allow for much creativity; one must follow the label. Fertilizer programs, on the other hand, can be very satisfying to create as there are many options and challenges to consider. In addition, technical expertise in managing water quality and soil salinity will be critical for the future as marginal lands and water reuse become more important for food production. Watching a healthy crop yield a bountiful harvest while knowing you played a key role is a very satisfying experience. Many of the most successful salespeople carry both the PCA and CCA as they can provide whole farm solutions that improve a grower’s bottom line.
Farmers in the western states face many challenges. As their operations increase in size and complexity, they have come to rely on the expertise that a PCA/CCA offers. They can trust that pests are being dealt with and their fertility programs are based on sound agronomic principles that will bring the most profitable production at the end of the season. Farmers also know CCAs are collecting data to help them demonstrate to regulators they are using the most conservative practices possible to prevent ground and surface water pollution. The sustainable future of the West’s farming depends on CCAs.
If you are already a CCA, we thank you for your membership. If you would like to become more involved in the WRCCA, there are regional committees that are looking for new members. Check wrcca.org for more information on regional committees. If you are not a CCA but are interested in the program, refer to both certifiedcropadvisor.org and wrcca.org for information on exams, performance objectives and many other topics related to the program. The Agronomy Society is making it easier to take exams by switching to remote proctoring. There are also many more opportunities to get continuing education hours on-line. Stay tuned for more articles from WRCCA Board members in the months ahead.
Early season vineyard management is critical for several reasons. First, the grapevine microclimate and fungal disease severity at early season largely affect the yield, e.g., yield loss and fruit unmarketability due to fungal disease, and fruit quality, e.g., Brix and color for red varieties; second, some missteps in early season vineyard practices might hinder the following year’s success if they affect bud fruitfulness; finally, optimal early management might save you money on pest/disease management.
The season starts at budbreak and once buds start to push, the clock begins clicking. Although several vineyard practices during grapevine dormancy might also be important, such as pruning and fungicide application (e.g., lime sulfur), I will focus on post-budbreak vineyard management in this article.
The most important steps during early season vineyard management include:
The objectives of early season vineyard management are simple and straightforward: To sustain yield with desired fruit quality at harvest with low disease/pest pressure. Irrigation, grapevine nutrition, pest/disease pressure, canopy management, and crop level all play in the formula to decide the timing and severity of vineyard practices at the early growing stage.
According to retired UCCE Viticulture Specialist Dr. Larry Williams, in a year with normal winter rainfall, a typical San Joaquin Valley (SJV) vineyard might not require irrigation until bloom, which might be approximately late April or early May in the SJV depending on weather, site, variety, and other farming practices. However, the timing of first irrigation can vary dramatically based on the winter and spring precipitation. Too much irrigation or precipitation at an early canopy development stage can promote rapid shoot growth and create a large and dense canopy which increases shading and relative humidity (RH) inside the canopy favoring fungal diseases, such as phomopsis, botrytis, and powdery mildew.
Canopy management such as shoot thinning, leafing and cane trimming can alleviate some negative effects from excessive vigor or dense canopy. However, canopy management alone might not offer the complete solution if the excessive growth resulted from too much precipitation or irrigation. Understanding when and how much to irrigate is beyond the scope of this article. However, some basic tools, such as visual assessment and soil moisture meter, can generally serve the purpose of deciding when to irrigate. Other irrigation scheduling tools, e.g., crop evapotranspiration (ETc), can also offer information on how much to irrigate on a daily or weekly basis. Managing irrigation and adjusting the canopy accordingly can optimize yield and fruit quality, along with the effectiveness of fungicide/pesticide programs, and that will improve your profit and reduce your fungicide/pesticide costs.
Managing grapevine nutrition serves two purposes: First, to make sure there are no nutrient deficiencies that could limit yield level or fruit quality; second, to make sure there are no excessive or even detrimental levels of nutrients that could also lead to reduced yield potential and fruit quality, unnecessary expense, and unwanted effects on the environment. Among grape nutrients, N has the most impact on vine vigor and canopy growth. Excessive N either from fertilizer application or irrigation water can promote excessive canopy growth causing shading and high RH inside of the canopy. As a result, excessive shading can impact the fruit-zone microclimate, and create high RH, favoring fungal disease, which will reduce fruit quality/marketability and basal bud fruitfulness for the following year’s crop.
Opening the canopy by shoot thinning, leafing and cane trimming can increase the exposure of basal buds and clusters and improve spray coverage and air circulation. However, like irrigation, canopy management might not be enough to correct the negative impact resulting from excessive N status, if N is left unchecked, an oversupply of N will promote the canopy growth to diminish any benefit from canopy management.
Growers should conduct a visual assessment and consider laboratory results, and rely on historical records, like yield and pest/disease conditions, to adjust the grapevine nutrition program. Among all the measures, bloom petiole or leaf blade tests are recommended to take a snapshot of early vine nutrient status that will give growers enough time to adjust the fertilizer program accordingly. Grapevine bloom petiole critical values are published in Table 1, above. Be cautious with N critical value. The N critical value was solely established on data based on Thompson Seedless with own root. Growers should judge the grapevine N status with additional information, e.g., vine general health, vigor and yield.
As I discussed previously, typical grapevine canopy management includes shoot thinning, shoot positioning, leafing and cane trimming. Based on the trellis type, growers might not need to apply all of them. Most common practices in the SJV are shoot thinning, leafing, and canopy trimming and all of them can be performed mechanically.
Shoot thinning is typically conducted when shoots are 8 to 10 inches; the objectives are to reduce shoot density and improve light exposure inside of the canopy as well as reduce the crop level. In the SJV, few growers adopted this practice due to the potential yield loss. However, shoot thinning can be beneficial when the vines are young with excessive crop or vines that have an excessive number of fruitful buds following mechanical pruning (see Figure 1, above). Shoot thinning regulates the crop load to avoid the negative impact of overcropping on berry ripening and potential carryover effect on the following year’s crop. Many researchers have shown the benefits of shoot thinning and a few have demonstrated the feasibility of mechanical shoot thinning (Geller and Kurtural 2012). However, the benefit of shoot thinning might gradually diminish during the season if the irrigation is unchecked since the canopy could recover and refill the gaps when water is abundant.
Leafing aims to increase light exposure on clusters and basal buds to improve the fruit quality and bud fruitfulness as well as improve spray coverage and lower disease pressure (Figure 2, above). Both timing and severity of leafing are critical to achieve success. Leafing after veraison typically has no or negative effect on fruit quality, especially in the SJV. Leafing around berry set is commonly recommended to improve the color of red grape varieties, and studies show better results from mechanical leafing in comparison to hand leafing. Recently, several studies including a couple in Fresno and Madera, have proven pre-bloom or bloom mechanical leafing might offer the most benefits in comparison to classical berry set leafing. Compared to berry set leafing, bloom leafing offers more or similar fruit quality benefits with less cost by eliminating the need for shoot positioning prior to leafing, since most shoots are vertically positioned at bloom (Figure 3 and 4, below).
In cool climates and less productive vine systems, pre-bloom or bloom leafing might reduce berry set and ultimately decrease yield (Achimovic. et al. 2016). However, in our study and other studies in the SJV (Cook et al. 2015), no effect on berry set and yield has been observed, and the effect on berry set and yield from leafing prior to bloom may largely depend on growing conditions and severity of leaf area reduction from leafing.
Cane trimming is used to open the canopy for light exposure and increase air circulation in order to reduce RH and fungal disease pressure when the canopy is excessive and dense. However, severe canopy trimming might result in significant loss of leaf area that can delay the berry ripening by reducing the photosynthetic productivity (Figure 5, below). Severe canopy trimming might also over-expose the cluster and cause sunburn before harvest. The goal of canopy trimming is to effectively open the canopy without severely reducing functional leaves and over-exposing the fruit.
In conclusion, canopy management should be integrated with water and nutrient management as part of early season vineyard practices paying attention to pest/disease management, growing conditions (e.g., climate, soil condition, and irrigation water availability and quality) and production goals to achieve the maximum production efficiency with low disease and pest pressure.
Geller, J. and Kurtural, K. 2012. Mechanical Canopy and Crop-Load Management of Pinot gris in a Warm Climate. American Journal of Enology and Viticuture. 64: 65-73.
Acimovic, D., Tozzini, L., Green, A., Sivilotti, P., and Sabbatini, P. 2016. Identification of a defoliation severity threshold for changing fruitset, bunch morphology and fruit composition in Pinot Noir. Austalian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajgw.12235.
Cook, M., Zhang, Y., Nelson, C., Gambetta, G., Kennedy, J., and Kurtural, K. 2015. Anthocyanin Composition of Merlot is Ameliorated by Light Microclimate and Irrigation in Central California. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. 66: 266-278
In March a national emergency was declared for the novel Coronavirus and the Defense Production Act invoked to ensure that ventilators and PPE are distributed to healthcare workers in response to the pandemic.
This act empowers the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to work from the top of the supply chain and directly with manufacturers of PPE, such as 3M and Dupont, to prioritize supplies of N95 respirators, protective clothing, and other PPE for medical staff, ensuring that they receive the supplies necessary to address the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, 10 percent of N-95 respirators from 3M went to healthcare; that number is now 90 percent.
This has led to significant backorders of PPE supplies for distributors. Carl Atwell, president of Gempler’s, explains that normal lead times for PPE before the crisis was up to 10 days. Now, current reports from suppliers shift daily as manufacturers work to address the executive order.
Estimated times for the availability of disposable respirators suggest fall of this year; and the estimated wait for other PPE supplies is August.
Suppliers are working to significantly ramp up production of PPE: The company 3M announced plans to produce 50 million units of respirators in the U.S. by June for domestic distribution, compared to the 13 million manufactured in the U.S. before the crisis.
“There is a tremendous need, but when you put that much supply chain resources behind it, you intuitively believe that we should catch up at some point,” Atwell says. He encourages agricultural producers to find ways to communicate with each other and distribute PPE as one way to mitigate the shortage. Atwell also suggests looking for lesser known brands of PPE: “Don’t just go to your first tier of choice.”
On their company website, disposable protective clothing is available from brands like Keystone rather than the more recognizable TyvekÒ coverall from Dupont, including reusable chemical-resistant clothing as opposed to their disposable counterpart. Supplies in high demand include reusable and disposable nitrile gloves, protective clothing, and disposable respirators, including certain protective eyewear, such as goggles and face shields. Although this could change in the days ahead, half-mask and full-mask respirators are more available than disposable N-95 respirators for now.
Since there are many of us in agriculture that will be applying pesticides soon or in the near future, here are some common questions and answers on how to meet PPE requirements as the shortage continues.
Q: I heard that the CDC is loosening regulations on PPE requirements for healthcare workers. Is this the case for agriculture?
No. The label is the law. PPE requirements on pesticide labels are written by the U.S. EPA, while state PPE regulations are overseen by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation; neither of these agencies have loosened their regulations for PPE.
Q: Should I stock up on PPE?
No. Purchase the PPE that you anticipate needing for the growing season to avoid overstocking and shorting available supplies. Choose reusable PPE whenever possible.
Q: What if I can’t find the respirator that is required on the pesticide label?
Option 1: Seek alternative, more protective respirators:
Applicators may not know how to decide which is the appropriate respirator to choose if the one the label requires them to wear is not available. For example, if the label requires a particulate respirator, such as an N95, wearing a half mask respirator with organic vapor filtering cartridges will not protect you from particulates. However, wearing an organic vapor filtering cartridge with N95 pre-filters will.
With an increase in PPE, the risk for heat illness increases.
If an employee or applicator is wearing a different respirator than normal, they will need to repeat their medical evaluation, annual fit test and annual respirator safety training to correspond with the new respirator.
Option 2: Seek alternative pesticide products that do not require a respirator:
Currently, there is not one central list of pesticide products that require respirators, so a grower, applicator, or pest control advisor will need to consult all potential pesticide product labels for respirator requirements. Consider visiting agrian.com to review PPE requirements quickly in search results under the “safety” tab of a product.
Q: What if I can’t find the right chemical-resistant gloves that are 14 mils thick?
Nitrile gloves are in high demand. Handlers must always wear gloves made of the material listed on the label but consider searching for reusable chemical-resistant gloves made of other materials that still comply with the requirements of the label. Some common chemical resistant materials for gloves are barrier laminate, butyl rubber, nitrile rubber, neoprene rubber, natural rubber, polyethelyene, polyvinylchloride (PVC), and viton rubber. With the exception of barrier laminate and polyethylene, chemical resistant gloves are required to be at least 14 mils thick.
Disposable gloves made out of chemical resistant materials listed on the label less than 14 mils thick can be worn, but for no more than 15 minutes at a time and then disposed of. This may be an option for mixers or handlers who are conducting tasks that require more dexterity. Consider that removing and replacing disposable gloves every 15 minutes is likely a requirement that is not feasible to comply with. Also, thinner gloves cannot be layered on top of one another to add up to 14 mil.
15 mil disposable nitrile gloves are manufactured by suppliers such as, Showa and Cordova Safety among others. If available, they can be worn for the duration of the handling task, so long as they remain intact.
Reusable 15 or 22 mil nitrile gloves are compliant with the majority of handling tasks.
Q: How do I know when to wear a coverall and which ones will protect me?
Coveralls must be worn if the pesticide label specifies they are required in the PPE section, or if handling a pesticide with a DANGER or WARNING signal word. For applications where contact with spray residue is likely, such as a backpack or air blast application, coveralls should be added. They can be made of any closely woven fabric, most commonly Tyvek or a tightly woven cotton.
Coveralls must be provided by the employer and if a reusable cotton coverall is chosen, the employer is responsible for laundering them. A chemical resistant suit worn over work clothing is an appropriate substitute for coveralls, but there is an increase in the risk of heat illness when worn because they are made of a heavier material than most coveralls.
Q: What if I can’t find a face shield?
Face shields protect against splashing during mixing and loading and must be worn if specified by the pesticide label. The only substitute for wearing a face shield is using a full-face respirator.
If the label does not specify that eyewear is required, or if it requires “protective eyewear,” you can choose to wear either a face shield, goggles, or safety glasses that provide front, side, and brow protection and meets the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 standard for impact resistance.
If questions or concerns arise, contact your county agricultural commissioner for more information and assistance during this time.
Carl Atwell from Gempler’s is willing to be a personal resource at this time for those wanting to discuss supplies of PPE and with other related questions. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Alec Garcia from Woodland Farm Supply in California is available to help with requests for supplies of N95s or other masks that comply with regulations that come available. You can reach out to her directly and she can provide you with updated information regarding restocking at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plenty of factors can contribute to inefficiencies in pesticide spray applications. Complex interactions between equipment, environmental conditions and physical properties of the material being sprayed influence how much of the material hits the target and how much is wasted.
Spray applications in tree nut orchards for pest and disease control are typically done with airblast sprayers. Cost of the spray material and application plus the potential loss of crop yield from pests and disease make achieving high target deposition and coverage critical.
Dr. Peter Larbi, assistant UCCE specialist in the Agricultural Application Engineering program (AgAppE Lab) at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, spoke on the components of a good spray application at the 2020 UC Pistachio Day. Larbi is also working on an Expert System model for spray applications to help growers achieve optimum spray coverage. Larbi said that significant material loss can result from drift and ground fall out because of variability in tree canopy profile and size. Lack of calibration and maintenance of spray equipment and operator error also contribute to spray inefficiency. Material that does not contribute to pest or disease control represents a production cost without a return, he said.
Spray Application Basics
Airblast sprayers use high volume, high velocity air to transport spray material. They atomize the tank mix liquid and the fan air transports the droplets toward the target. Atomization produces a spray consisting of a spectrum of droplet sizes. Three things can happen to the droplets: they can drift beyond the canopy, they can hit the ground, or they can be intercepted by the tree canopy, i.e. they can hit the target. Research in citrus has shown that 18 to 26 percent of applied spray material is generally off-target. Six to 14 percent is lost to drift, 9 to 20 percent hits the ground.
Environmental factors, such as wind, air temperature and humidity can negatively affect the efficiency of the spray application. Added to those are improper operating settings of the airblast sprayer, including nozzle design, operating pressure and the physical properties of the tank solution.
Maintenance of the sprayer is critical for proper function, Larbi said. Parts, including the agitator in the tank, pressure gauges, pumps, nozzles and fan must be operating correctly.
The rate and speed of the airflow also determine how much of the spray material reaches the target. These factors must be managed with the tree canopy size and foliage density in mind.
The operator of the sprayer is one of the primary arbiters in an effective application. This person should be trained and knowledgeable about sprayer operation, be familiar with and follow best management practices, be attentive to the machinery and respond quickly when a problem arises.
The airblast sprayer must be calibrated accurately to deliver the material. Calibration should be done at the beginning of the spray season and changes made when conditions, such as foliage density, warrant. Larbi noted that not all calibration steps are always necessary. Adjustments can be made to the components of the sprayer that are affected by the change in conditions.
The spray application must be timed according to weather conditions and to the target pest for best control. The spray must be directed at the target canopy and adequately penetrate the canopy for optimal coverage. If in excess, penetration can lead to spray droplets exiting the target canopy without depositing on it.
It is important, Larbi said, to take into account specific orchard conditions before starting a spray application. Adjustments in fan speed, ground speed and nozzles can achieve better efficiency. Making sure the droplets hit the target and are being retained there is important, and different situations may call for changes in the tank mix formulation, including the use of adjuvants to improve deposition. Target coverage can be assessed with the use of spray cards (see Larbi’s related article on March/April 2020 edition of Progressive Crop Consultant magazine for details.) These can show if the spray made it to the target, but do not show deposition.
Expert System Model
Modeling and simulation tools developed by Larbi focus on efficiency – which is the amount of spray material reaching the target versus the amount of spray delivered by the airblast sprayer. Efficiency entails spray deposition. Larbi’s spray evaluation section of the Expert System can be used to simulate several different spray application scenarios by changing values of inputs and observing spray deposition. These scenarios may represent different optional settings a grower could use in the application. By comparing the outcomes—on-target deposition—of the various settings, the grower can identify the setting that would result in optimum spray material deposition.
Computer modeling utilizes the tree characteristics, application parameters, weather and orchard conditions to develop the optimal settings. Larbi said that validating a model with data from an actual field experiment provides confidence to trust the model’s predictions and to make decisions based on the model.
Tree height, foliage density, and canopy diameter are the tree characteristics. Application parameters are the airflow rate, nozzle type and number of nozzles, operating pressure and ground speed. Temperature, relative humidity and wind are the weather parameters. Orchard conditions include number of trees per row, tree and row spacing and missing trees. Other parameters in the modeling are output per side, total volume applied, total area covered, application rate and number of trees sprayed.
Using the model, inputting the parameters of the sprayer application and orchard design, is one way of improving the efficiency of the spray operation. In contrast, Larbi said that guessing the outcome of an airblast spray application for its canopy deposition, drift and ground fall-out is almost impossible.
There are a number of options for controlling—or at least limiting the damage of—birds in vineyards, but experts say the best defense is to build a strategy that includes multiple points of protection and mix it up.
The extent of bird damage within a vineyard depends on vineyard site location, varietal and other variables, as well as bird species. UCCE Viticulture Farm Advisor Glenn McGourty in Mendocino County said birds can be a particular problem on vineyards located along the edges of wildland areas. Particularly in those situations, the best protection is to create a barrier around the vines such as netting. He said woven polypropylene netting works best in his region and experience.
Birds begin to feed on grapes in vineyards as fruit turns color and starts to ripen. In McCourty’s north coast winegrape region, early ripening red varieties such as Pinot Gris, Cielogiolo and Pinot noir are among the favorites, he said. Birds feed around the clock during the day but are particularly voracious in the early morning.
Protecting the Crop
UC Cooperative Extension Wildlife Specialist Roger Baldwin said netting appears to be the most effective, and most expensive, option for controlling grapes in problem areas.
“Netting is used in areas where the grower expects substantial grape loss in the vineyard, and the crop is relatively high in value,” Baldwin said.
Another effective option is using birds of prey as a natural bird deterrent. Baldwin said preliminary research shows that falcons can prove to be a good deterrent and provide “fairly substantial reduction” in crop loss.
“Falconry is a pretty effective tool but it too is pretty expensive. While it’s a little less expensive than netting, it also should be used in higher value cropping areas,” Baldwin said.
McGourty agreed falcons can be effective in his high end vineyard area, particularly in larger vineyards.
“Falcons work quite well, but are expensive, starting at about $20,000, so you need about 500 acres to make it pencil out,” McGourty said. While netting and falconry are two effective options for controlling birds, they can be cost-prohibitive for smaller or lower value vineyards.
One lower-cost control is to put a human in the vineyards with a shotgun, but that comes with both regulatory and public/neighbor relations considerations. Invasive pests, such as starlings don’t require specific depredation permits, while most native and migratory species, including house finches and robins, will require permits through state and federal wildlife agencies to remove birds through shooting or trapping.
Many growers rely on frightening devices that use auditory or visual hazing, such as propane cannons or electronic sound transmitters. Visual devices such as reflective mylar streamers, scare-eye balloons and even air dancers can provide some benefit for brief periods of time. Baldwin said auditory devices must also provide variety and target specific bird populations in the vineyard to maintain their effectiveness.
Know Your Birds
Baldwin said an overall program should take into account what type of birds are in the vineyard and the corresponding damage, which will vary by species. Starlings can cause extensive damage, for instance, plucking off and eating the whole berry and damaging neighboring berries with their feet. House finches tend to peck at berries and tear them open, which can lead to secondary disease problems such as bunch rot from juices dripping on berries below. It is important to have someone who is experienced at identifying bird species looking at the damage and keep track of what is in the vineyard year to year, as with most pest issues, he said.
Generally, Baldwin noted, migratory birds are more susceptible to frightening devices because they typically only loiter in one place for a week or two. For more resident or semi-permanent populations, the UC IPM manual suggests combining visual devices such as mylar strips, with auditory devices such as propane cannons. The key to success is to mix things up so that birds don’t become habituated to the hazing device, Baldwin said.
“Loud noises like propane cannons and shell crackers can be effective at deterring birds from a given area for a short period of time,” he said. “What we generally recommend is growers would mix and match some of these tools. Maybe use propane canons for five to six days then when birds habituate, move to electronic distress calls, then incorporate visual hazing devices, and so on. You can’t just put mylar streamers out there and think you are going to solve the problem, and you can’t just put propane cannons and think that will solve the problem; you have to be smart.”
One auditory hazing device, Bird Gard, relies on what the Sisters, Ore.-based company calls “bioacoustics” to randomly produce calls of naturally occurring local dominant predator birds combined with resident pest bird distress and alarm calls. All sounds are customized to repel the specific birds within a particular vineyard. Since the species of pest birds can change during the season, each unit contains a changeable sound card that is customized to vineyard location and the type of pest bird in the vineyard.
“Bird Gard has been around for over 30 years. In our early stages of development, we learned pretty quickly that birds habituate to the same sound played over and over,” said Quay Richerson, California sales director for Bird Gard. “So, we developed a microprocessor within our circuit board that randomizes the order in which sounds playback, the frequency of the sounds, and the intermittent time-off period. The keyword there is randomized. The sounds have to keep changing all the time for it to have the effectiveness we desire.”
Quay said that to protect the crop as sugars come on, growers should ensure the Bird Bard units are operating two weeks before veraison and run through harvest.
Baldwin said growers can usually get three to four weeks of protection with a strategic program, so they should wait to put defenses out until close to when feeding begins to get control through harvest. The decision on when to start implementing bird strategies is largely site specific. Individual growers should look at the previous year’s bird damage and crop value to figure out if and when it is time to spend the money on bird control.
“It’s best to begin before birds start coming and feeding in those fields, but you don’t want to begin too soon because each control measure will only last so long,” Baldwin said.
While some bird control measures are as old as farming, newer measures are looking at integrating technologies to outsmart one of grape production’s smart pests. New research is being done on devices that create background noise that interferes with birds’ ability to communicate with each other. Feeding repellents are also in trial, though that technology is in its infancy. In addition, drone technology is also being researched.
Dr. Page Klug, Supervisory Research Wildlife Biologist with the USDA National Wildlife Research Center at the North Dakota Field Station, has conducted evaluations of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as a tool to protect agricultural crops from bird damage.
UAS are known to elicit behavioral and physiological responses in wildlife and have been proposed as a means to protect crops from birds. Klug evaluated behavior responses of blackbirds to fixed wing and rotary wing drones on a number of platforms and hazing methods.
The birds showed no response to the fixed wing UAS but did show a response to the rotary UAS and responses were more pronounced with lower altitude approaches.
Klug concluded that the rotary UAS has the potential to modify bird behavior in a way that may reduce crop damage, but emphasized in her research that no studies have been done to assess potential effectiveness.
Klug said that to be effective in protecting crops from blackbird depredation, modifications to the physical UAS might be needed. Modifications include the addition of an audio system to produce distress or alarm calls or firearm discharge sounds, adding lasers or lights or shapes that mimic an aerial predator.
In addition, a fully automated UAS may be a more effective strategy. This modification could potentially reduce labor, Klug wrote, The UAS could also be programmed to fly patterns which would be most likely to deter birds. Environmental conditions also come into play with UAS use as low temperatures can affect battery packs. Klug noted that their evaluations were done with specific UAS models and other types of drones and responses by birds to approaching UAS can vary based on the specific platform and are likely species and context specific.
While growers have access to a number of measures for controlling what can be one of a vineyard’s most perplexing pests, an effective program is not “set it and forget it” experts said. An effective program should be customized and managed according to each specific site, taking into consideration the bird pests present and the size and value of the vineyard and grapes.
In 2014, Pennsylvania reported the occurrence of a large planthopper, the spotted lanternfly (SLF), in Berks County. SLF (Lycorma delicatula) is a hemipteran insect of the family Fulgoridae and is thought to have arrived in the US on a shipment of stones in 2012. Ever since it was found in Pennsylvania, it rapidly spread to many states with infestations currently present in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. SLF has also been found, without established populations, in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina as of March 2020. SLF is native to China and has a wide host range including fruit trees such as apple, apricot, cherry, and peach; ornamental or woody trees such as birch, black walnut, dogwood, lilac, maple, pine, poplar, and tree of heaven; and grapes. The tree of heaven, which is also an invasive species in the United States, is a favorite host of SLF.
Considering the history of the spread of invasive pests from other areas to California, the presence of tree of heaven throughout California, and the importance of the grape industry and others susceptible hosts to the California economy, it is important to be aware of this pest and strategies to mitigate its potential negative impact.
SLF adults are about 1” with tan-colored forewings that have black spots and markings and hind wings having red, black, and white coloration and black spots. The abdomen is yellow with dark bands. Females deposit eggs in batches of 30 to 50 and cover them with a yellowish-brown waxy protective deposit. Eggs are the overwintering stage of SLF. Nymphs emerge in spring and go through four instars. First to third instar nymphs are black with white markings and the fourth instar is red with black and white markings.
SLF can occur in large numbers and suck plant sap with their needle-like mouthparts, reduce the plant vigor, and can cause mortality in severe cases. Copious amounts of honeydew secreted by SLF promotes the development of sooty mold, which affects photosynthesis when on foliage or quality when on fruits. Since SLF infests several landscape trees and populations build in large numbers, it can also be a nuisance in urban and landscape areas.
SLF can fly and spread to long distances through wind currents. They typically land on large trees and then distribute to other hosts. Their ability to deposit eggs on non-living surfaces like rocks, vehicles, and packages increases the risk of their accidental spread through materials shipped or vehicles moving from the infested areas. A recent modeling study identified California as a region highly suitable for the establishment of SLF.
Scientists on the east coast and in California are currently working on biocontrol agents such as parasitic wasps (referred to as parasitoids) that attack SLF eggs and nymphs. If these parasitoids are specific to SLF and do not pose a risk to native insect populations or beneficial insects, they can be reared and mass-released for areawide control of the pest. There are certain chemical pesticides and biological pesticides based on entomopathogenic fungi such as Beauveria bassiana can be used to treat SLF infestations. However, the best strategy is to reduce the risk of its introduction and spread.
As the SLF not only infests agriculturally important hosts, but also infests hosts in urban and landscape areas, both the agricultural community and the general public should be vigilant and join hands to prevent its invasion and spread in California. When there is an areawide problem, collective actions have a major impact on addressing them. A few important points to note are:
Be aware of the pest and able to identify the eggs, nymphs, and adults. This link to a video provides an overview of the pest, its biology, damage, and control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45103-PFI4M.
Check vehicles and packages arriving from the infested regions in the United States for egg masses.
If found, immediately report to the local Agricultural Commissioner, University of California Cooperative Extension, or California Department of Food and Agriculture office.
The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys, has caused significant yield losses in fruit and nut crops around the world. Its appearance in California around fifteen years ago was no surprise after it had already invaded large portions of the country, especially the mid-Atlantic states. Here, we give background information and an overview of the brown marmorated stink bug biology, its current status within California and its potential to impact pistachio production.
Invasion History of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
Originally, BMSB was known only in China, Korea, and Japan. With increasing global trade and transport, it started, like many other species, spreading to new parts of the world. Outside of its native range, it was first identified from samples in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2001, but the earliest confirmed sighting of the invasive stink bug already occurred five years prior. That invasive species are present for years before their official recognition is common since they generally arrive in low numbers and have to build up their populations before they can cause any damage—which then generally attracts attention and alarm.
In the case of the brown marmorated stink bug, regular interceptions, for example, in the UK and New Zealand show that it probably traveled in transport crates or shipping containers to the US, and later to Europe, Canada and Chile. Shipping containers provide BMSB adults (the overwintering stage) with shelter and protection. Other favored overwintering sites are other human-made structures, including homes, garages, barns, etc. This, in combination with their likely arrival at trade hubs such as large cities, and their tendency to form overwintering aggregations that can consist of hundreds or even thousands, has led to them being classified as a ‘nuisance pest’. Indeed, unlucky homeowners have struggled with up to 25,000 BMSB hiding in their walls, attics, and other living spaces during the winter. Of concern for farmers in California is BMSB movement from urban shelters into agricultural crops.
Biology of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
The brown marmorated stink bug biology is similar to many of our native stink bugs and shares many traits with leaffooted bugs and smaller ‘true bugs’. They have an egg, nymph, and adult stage. Adult BMSB are about half an inch long, with a brown body and white striped antennae and legs.
In California, they can be confused with Euschistus species or the predatory Rough-shouldered stink bug Brochymena; the website www.StopBMSB.org has a helpful compendium with pictures and detailed descriptions. After mating, adult female BMSB lays up to ten egg masses, often consisting of about 28 lightly blue-green colored eggs, over the span of her life, which can last several months. The nymphs undergo five instars until they reach the adult stage. The red-brown and black first instar nymphs can be seen sitting around the egg mass after hatching, feeding on the symbiotic microorganisms that will make it possible to digest their various host plants. After that, they start wandering off in search of food. Second to fifth instar nymphs are black and white in appearance and can walk rather long distances for their small size, for example fifth instars can walk 65 ft within only four hours.
Both the nymphs and the adults feed by inserting their needle-like mouthparts into a variety of plant tissues including stems, leaves, and especially reproductive structures, secreting digestive enzymes and sucking up the liquified plant material. The mechanical damage and specifically the chemical changes due to the excreted enzymes can lead to discoloration, deformation and the abortion of fruiting structures, all of which make the crop unmarketable. Many stink bug species are known mainly as secondary pests in various crops. Often, an individual species has different host plants to fulfill their nutrient requirements and can therefore behave as a pest in different crops or take refuge in a naturally occurring host.
The brown marmorated stink bug has more known host plants than other stink bugs; in the US alone, more than 170 plant species have been reported, many of them economically important crops. These include vegetables, leguminous crops, fruits, nuts, and ornamentals. In the first big outbreak year, 2010, damage caused by BMSB to apple production of the mid-Atlantic states led to economic losses of $37 million. Other examples, from Georgia and Russia, include the destruction of the hazelnut crop, which is highly important for these regions, to such an extent that the government paid citizens for every bucket full of stink bugs. In contrast to those stories, BMSB crop damage has been relatively quiet in California and the rest of the West Coast.
The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in California
Not long after the brown marmorated stink bug was reported on the East Coast, in 2002, the first individual was discovered in a storage unit in California. Like most invasive species, there can be years between the first interceptions of individuals and the establishment of a reproducing population. Consequently, the first established brown marmorated stink bug populations in California were not reported until 2006 in the Los Angeles area and 2013 in Sacramento. The following year, 2014, monitoring efforts were put into place and, since then, the invasive stink bug has been shown to be established, or at least been detected, in most California counties (https://cisr.ucr.edu/invasive-species/brown-marmorated-stink-bug). However, presence and abundance are two separate matters. The warm climate allows the invasive insect to complete two generations per year and BMSB damage has been reported in several almond orchards near Modesto, Calif. The stink bugs have also been sighted in commercial peaches, but most sightings still occur in urban centers rather than agricultural areas, often associated with the common ornamental tree, the tree of heaven (which is also from Asia). Good news is that in many monitoring sites, trap catches have actually been decreasing for several years. The current situation therefore sees BMSB spreading in California, but at a low density apart from localized larger populations. The bad news is that, in addition to almonds, many California specialty crops are either known or potential hosts.
Damage Potential in Pistachios
To assess the threat of the brown marmorated stink bug to California’s pistachio production, we conducted trials under Central Valley conditions by caging terminal branch endings with pistachio clusters were caged, just after bud-break, and exposing the developing nuts to BMSB for a five-day feeding period. Trials were conducted throughout the season to account for hardening of the pistachio shell and changing temperatures. As a comparison, clusters were also exposed to adults of two native species that feed on pistachios, the flat green stink bug Chinavia hilaris and a leaffooted bug, Leptoglossus zonatus.
Native true bugs common in pistachios can be grouped by their size: ‘small bugs’ like mirids are more abundant early in the season and cannot pierce the pistachio shell later in the season, while ‘large bugs’ like stink bugs and leaffooted bugs continue to cause damage during mid- and late-season. The insertion of their needle-like mouthparts and the secretion of digestive enzymes can result in external damage, brown to black lesions of the outer fruit layer, the ‘epicarp lesions’ that can stain the outer shell and lower market value. Especially after mid- to late-season feeding, epicarp lesions often appear with a delay or not at all, hiding the internal damage: if the insect’s mouthparts reach the endosperm tissue, it can become necrotic or lead to aborted nuts. Along with direct damage, the feeding can lead to fungal infections, ‘stigmatomycosis’, that result in blackened, foul-smelling kernels.
We found that, one to two weeks after feeding, BMSB caused similar amounts of external nut damage (i.e., epicarp lesions) as did the native species tested. However, by following clusters development and damage throughout the season, we noticed more epicarp lesions formed later in the season in the BMSB exposed cages. Shortly before harvest in September, there were significantly more damaged nuts per cluster (based on epicarp lesions) in BMSB cages than in the green stink bug or leaffooted bug cages, independent of when the feeding occurred during the season. This indicates that adults of the brown marmorated stink bug can cause more external damage than our native large bug pests. However, the more important internal damage criteria such as the number of necrotic kernels, aborted nuts or kernels with stigmatomycosis were not different between these large bug pest species tested.
The brown marmorated stink bug may generally cause more crop damage than other large bugs because of their feeding behavior or saliva composition – this is still being investigated, but the main factor that makes them such an important pest are the sheer numbers in which they occur in affected areas, such as Virginia. In California’s Central Valley, this is generally not the case, at least at this time. One potential explanation for this phenomenon are the hot and dry summers in the Central Valley, as well as the large-structured agriculture, with thousands of contiguous acres of commercial agriculture, that may make it difficult for BMSB nymphs to switch host plants to access all their required nutrients.
To point this out, in another trial we caged first instar BMSB nymphs on different California specialty crops throughout the last two seasons and showed high nymphal mortality. This could explain the low overall abundance of BMSB in the Central Valley—it’s just too hot and dry. They were generally more likely to reach the adult stage on almond than on pistachio, which could be explained by the close relation of almond to one of their favorite host plants, peach. This is also in line with the records of brown marmorated stink bugs in California almonds, but so far not in pistachio. Still, even on almond survivorship was low.
To conclude, the brown marmorated stink bug has the potential to cause at least as much damage in pistachios as our native stink bug and leaffooted bug species. This is, however, dependent on its abundance in the respective areas, which is currently low.
What You Can Do if You Suspect You Have Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs
In case BMSB becomes a bigger issue in California, there are a number of measures that can be taken. The first line of defense is monitoring. Take into account that border rows are generally more affected than the inside, especially if the orchard or field is close to woodlands or preferred host plants, like the tree of heaven. Common sampling programs include sweep and beat samples as well as visual counts, but those methods have not proven to be as reliable as pheromone traps. There are many different trap types available of which the most effective one is the black pyramid trap, and the most economic one a clear sticky trap that can be mounted on a pole. The lure most commonly used is a blend of the aggregation pheromone of BMSB and the closely related oriental stink bug (Plautia stali).
Trap counts can be used to determine insecticide applications as opposed to calendar-based applications, but the system is still being optimized because it is more difficult to relate trap catches with BMSB densities in the orchard than it is for other pests. Pheromones and insecticides can also be combined in ‘attract and kill’ methods using for example ‘bait trees’ that are equipped with pheromone lures and are sprayed in regular intervals. This can ideally reduce pest populations with only a small area affected by the insecticides, thereby protecting natural enemies, decreasing the risk of secondary pest resurgence, and reducing costs. Research efforts to make these systems commercially available are currently underway on the east coast.
When the brown marmorated stink bug first started threatening yields in the mid-Atlantic states, growers applied insecticides registered for native stink bugs such as pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, which unfortunately failed to provide complete control of this invasive species. Part of the failure was due to the combination of a very mobile insect and products with a short residual activity. It is also easier to kill the overwintering adults than the subsequent generations, so once population densities are high during the season, application efficacy is reduced.
One reason to back off of pesticide treatments for low densities of BMSB are its natural enemies. Many predators are feeding on different life stages of this bug, although the levels of control in California are still not clearly known. There are a number of native parasitic wasps that attack the egg stage of stink bugs, including this invasive stink bug. However, since the brown marmorated stink bug is a novel host for them, they have yet to adapt to it; often, their offspring are not able to develop within the eggs of the brown marmorated stink bug. Currently, BMSB control in the United States by resident natural enemies is not sufficient to reduce population sizes significantly and prevent crop losses. There is, however, a parasitic wasp that could make a difference: Trissolcus japonicus, also known as ‘the samurai wasp’.
The Samurai Wasp
To the naked eye, the samurai wasp looks just like any other of our native egg parasitoids that attack stink bugs: it is smaller than a grain of sand, mostly black, and completely harmless. But unlike its relatives, it has the same area of origin as BMSB and is very well-adapted to this host. In Asia, the samurai wasp is the most important natural enemy keeping the brown marmorated stink bug in check. Like its host, it has made its way to North America and Europe. After first being discovered in the eastern part of the US in 2014, it spread, presumably with multiple new introductions from Asia, to the West, and has recently been recovered in the Los Angeles area. Across the country, release and redistribution efforts are underway and a national consortium of researchers is working on the development of an optimal strategy to use the samurai wasp to control BMSB. The samurai wasp is unlikely to be a silver bullet but will be one of many factors helping with the suppression and sustainable management of this invasive pest.
In California, most growers have so far been luckier than their colleagues on the east, and there are no indications that that will change soon; but the brown marmorated stink bug has been full of surprises and considering that it has the potential to severely impact SJV nut production, everyone should continue to be calm but vigilant.
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To survey and molecularly identify Fusariumoxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum (FOV) races and other seedling and wilt pathogens in commercial and grower cotton fields in California.
To further evaluate the seedling and wilt capabilities of FOV races with different inoculation methods using susceptible and resistant Pima and Upland germplasm.
To further evaluate the interactions of different FOV races and Rhizoctonia solani and their impact on disease development in cotton.
Additional match funding has been approved from the California State University Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) for both years of the project thanks to support letters provided by CCGGA and Cotton Inc. With the additional funding, we were able to expand on our current proposed work and add the following objectives to the ARI proposal.
To use representative identified FOV races for phenotypic evaluation of selected Upland cotton germplasm
To determine the effects of pH, temperature, and moisture on disease development in cotton when inoculated with FOV4.
Objective 1: To survey and molecularly identify Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum (FOV) races and other seedling and wilt pathogens in commercial and grower cotton fields in California.
Prior to this proposal, Fusarium isolates were collected in 2017 and 2018. Isolate information is provided in Table 1. All isolates were identified using two PCR assays and DNA sequencing of the translation elongation factor (EF-1α) gene. The first PCR assay produced a 208 bp amplicon unique to FOV races 3, 4, and 7, while the second multiplex PCR assay genotyped FOV isolates into two genotypes, N (396 bp), and T (583 bp). These genotypes were identified based on the absence (N type) or presence (T type) of the insertion of the transposable element Tfo1 in the phosphate permease (PHO) gene unique to FOV race 4. Although not shown these isolates have been genotyped with newly developed primers. We are repeating the genotyping currently for verification of results.
For the current proposed research, 11 locations across the San Joaquin Valley and six locations in the El Paso, Texas region were sampled beginning in mid-May 2019. To date, single spore isolations for 110 Fusarium isolates have been completed (Table 2). All isolates were collected from symptomatic cotton seedlings. Additionally, 18 isolates of Rhizoctonia solani were also isolated from symptomatic cotton seedlings (Table 2). Other fungal species were isolated and are currently being identified morphologically. It appears that there may be some additional Fusarium species that are not FOV. Isolates will be genotyped similar to 2017 and 2018 isolates.
A preliminary baiting method using collected soil from a cotton field in Dos Palos, Calif. was completed. This assay was modified for the isolation of Pythium spp. from field soil using soybean as bait. From this assay isolates of what appear to be FOV, Pythium, and R. solani were all baited using the susceptible Pima cultivar DP-340. Soil has been collected from a number of locations across CA and will be used in the baiting method to isolate other potential pathogens not isolated from collected plant material. Soil samples from some of the first locations where FOV race 4 was identified in CA but are no longer in production for cotton were also collected. This assay might allow us to determine if the pathogen FOV race 4 is still present in these locations, despite being out of production for at least a decade in some cases.
Two undergraduate students have been trained and have been conducting the work mentioned above under the guidance of Dr. Ellis and her previous graduate student. Another student has also started to isolate DNA from the single spore isolations for identification using new PCR primers. Additionally, DNA sequencing of isolates will be done using the translation elongation factor and internal transcribed spacer region.
Objective 2: To further evaluate the seedling and wilt capabilities of FOV races with different inoculation methods using susceptible and resistant Pima and Upland germplasm.
Three assays will be compared to further evaluate seedling and wilt capabilities of FOV races/genotypes. A rolled towel assay was developed in our lab, and will be compared to the root-dip inoculation method and an infested-oat-seed method that was modified from a protocol by Beccera et al. (2012). Protocols for these methods have all been established and tested in preliminary studies. A rolled towel assay using eight representative Fusarium isolates was completed to evaluate possible variation in aggressiveness towards cotton by different FOV4 genotypes and F. solani isolates. The assay was set up using Pima cultivar DP-340. The results from two runs of the assay are provided in Figure 1 and 2, below. There was a significant difference among isolate and experiment (P<0.0001), but there was not a significant difference for the interaction for isolate and experiment.
Additionally, these same isolates or a similar set will be used in the comparison of different greenhouse assays. We plan to use varieties of both Pima and Upland cotton with varying levels of plant host resistance in the assays. Finally, we have started to screen previous isolates collected from 2017 and 2018 using the root dip inoculation method. This will also be done for a majority of isolates collected in 2019. Once pathogenicity for the majority of the isolates is tested using the root dip assay and genotyping is completed a representative set of isolates can be used in our screening efforts.
Objective 3: To further evaluate the interactions of different FOV races and Rhizoctonia solani and their impact on disease development in cotton.
The graduate student for this objective has been currently evaluating environmental parameters of our CA FOV and R. solani isolates such as pH and temperature. Infested-oat inoculum has been prepared to begin the interaction study with FOV race 4 and R. solani. Furthermore, we also plan to co-inoculate with different FOV race 4 genotypes and F. solani.
Cotton is susceptible to weed interference, especially following emergence, as many weed species can outgrow and outcompete the newly germinated seedlings. This includes a weed native to California – Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri)- whose season-long germination phenology and high rate of photosynthesis enhances its ability as a crop competitor. Palmer amaranth interference significantly affects the growth and yield of most agronomic crops, with cotton being one of the more sensitive commodities. In addition to direct impacts on yield, Palmer amaranth can also interfere with harvest efficiency. Research has suggested that mechanical harvesting of cotton with Palmer amaranth at densities greater than six plants per 30 feet of row was impractical because of the potential for damage to equipment. Additional reports noted that the frequency of work stoppages increased as Palmer amaranth densities increased because of the need to repeatedly dislodge weed stems from the harvester.
Currently, glyphosate is the predominant herbicide applied in California cotton for weed control. According to data derived from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) pesticide use reports, glyphosate was applied to 438,305 cotton acres in 2016, which is eight times more treated acreage than the next most commonly applied active ingredients (paraquat and oxyfluorfen). The use of glyphosate is not limited solely to cotton; glyphosate is an important component of weed control programs in a diverse array of crops, including almonds, alfalfa, corn, grapes, pistachios, and walnuts. The extensive use of glyphosate across commodities and over time has resulted in the selection for glyphosate-resistance in six species in California, including Palmer amaranth (Figures 1a and 1b, above).
Pesticide use reports indicate that California cotton growers do not regularly use residual herbicides on their planted acres; pendimethalin and flumioxazin were applied to less than half of California’s cotton acres in 2016, suggesting that growers are relying, heavily, on post-emergence measures (including glyphosate, hand-weeding, and cultivation) for weed control. Palmer amaranth has an exceptionally high growth rate, which allows the species to rapidly exceed height limits for chemical control. For example, glufosinate applications should be made to small (<3” in height) Palmer amaranth to prevent weed escape and regrowth.
In 2019, a trial was undertaken in Fresno, Calif., to describe the growth of Palmer amaranth in response to emergence date and to determine how quickly Palmer amaranth can overcome most herbicide label height limits. Palmer amaranth seed was collected in September of 2018 from a population growing alongside an agronomic crop field in Merced County. Seed were planted into 1.7-gallon pots containing all-purpose garden soil on April 21, April 28, May 30 and June 18, 2019. Palmer amaranth emerged on April 24th, May 2, June 2 and June 21 and were thinned to a density of one plant per pot (10 pots total per planting date). Palmer amaranth growth and development was recorded for each individual pot every second day until 20 days after emergence (DAE). Growing degree days (GDD) were calculated for each observation window using UC IPM models and Palmer growth regressed against GDD to predict critical stages (3 and 6 inches in height) for Palmer management.
All Palmer amaranth in this study reached a height of 3 inches by six to 10 DAE (Figure 2, below). Palmer emerging on April 24th and May 2nd reached a height of six inches 14 to 16 DAE, whereas Palmer amaranth emerging on June 2nd and June 24th reached a height of 6 inches 12 DAE. Plant heights at 20 DAE were 11.5, 8.5, 20.0 and 21.3 inches for the April 24th, May 2nd, June 2nd and June 21st emergence dates, respectively.
To standardize Palmer growth across all observation periods, plant heights were regressed against accumulated GDD using a second-order polynomial model; a threshold base temperature of 50 degrees F was used in the computation (Figure 3, below). Results indicated that the observed SJV Palmer amaranth population requires 175 to 180 GDD to achieve a height of 3 inches and 270 to 275 GDD to reach a height of 6 inches. This model can serve as a basis for predicting Palmer amaranth development in the future. Understanding the relationship between the accumulation heat units and plant growth makes it possible to predict when Palmer could become too large for control during a growing season regardless of yearly variation in temperature.
If Palmer amaranth escapes herbicide (or cultivation) treatments, hand-weeding may be needed to prevent Palmer amaranth from producing seed that can be returned to the soil seedbank. Remember: female Palmer amaranth can produce up to a million seed per plant, which can support an infestation for many years to come. When hand-weeding, plants should, ideally, be removed entirely from the field to prevent them from becoming re-established. Even plants that are cut off at or near the base of the stem can re-sprout and achieve reproductive maturity.
Escapes are not uncommon as Palmer amaranth can grow rapidly and outpace many control efforts. If plants become established in the field and hand-weeding is necessary, be sure to remove as much of the weed biomass as possible to prevent plants from growing and achieving reproductive maturity.
Field Bindweed Perennialization
Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is another species that has become problematic in California cotton, particularly in crop rotation systems that are characterized by drip irrigation and reduced tillage. In addition to negatively impacting cotton yield, bindweed can serve as an alternate host for the silverleaf whitefly, the honeydew from which is a primary source of sugars that can result in sticky cotton lint.
Field bindweed is a deep-rooted (up to 20 feet) and spreading perennial vine, Management guidelines often suggest that field bindweed is susceptible to control at the seedling stage, although there is limited information to suggest when newly emerged field bindweed vines assume the characteristics of perennial plants. Personal communications between weed scientists have indicated that field bindweed seedlings could survive defoliation attempts as soon as 3 WAE.
In 2019, a trial was undertaken in Fresno, Calif., to describe the growth of seedling field bindweed and to determine when the vines take on the characteristics of perennial plants; specifically, the study was designed to evaluate at what stage field bindweed can regrow from root buds following above-ground biomass removal. Field bindweed seed collected in Merced County in 2018 was scarified using boiling water to induce germination. Seed were planted into 1.7-gallon pots containing all-purpose garden soil on April 17 and June t, 2019, representing two runs of the trial. Bindweed emerged on April 20 and June 4, respectively. Four replicate bindweed seedlings were physically defoliated (by removing all aboveground biomass at the soil line) at either 2, 4, 6, or 8 WAE and their compensatory growth measured two weeks after the cutting treatment (WAT). A second set of seedlings were destructively harvested at 2, 4, 6, and 8 WAE to describe biomass accumulation at the time of cutting.
Results indicate that the ability of field bindweed to regrow following defoliation increased with plant age (Table 1, see below). Field bindweed seedlings defoliated at 2 WAE did not re-sprout by two weeks following cutting; no viable above- or below-ground tissue was observed and recorded. Thirty-eight percent of field bindweed seedlings defoliated at 4 and 6 WAE survived the cutting treatment and re-sprouted. One average, 0.5 to 3.0 grams of stem/leave and root tissue were recovered at 2 WAT. One hundred percent of the field bindweed defoliated at 8 WAE survived the cutting treatment and produced 13.1 and 35.9 grams of above- and below-ground tissue, respectively.
While most management practices are focused on controlling rhizomatous vines, the seed of field bindweed should not be ignored. Bindweed seed can remain viable in the soil for decades (Weaver and Riley 1982) suggesting that infestations can re-occur even if rhizomes are successfully eradicated from a site. Anecdotal evidence indicated that newly emerged seedlings could take on the characteristics of perennial vines, rapidly, following germination. Results from this study suggest that field bindweed seedlings may not remain sensitive to certain control measures for more than 4 weeks after emergence. Studies to examine seedling development and responses to contact and systemic herbicides will be conducted during the fall of 2019/winter of 2020.
Field Bindweed Response to Trifluralin and Pendimethalin
Results from previous studies in processing tomatoes have shown that trifluralin pre-plant incorporated (PPI) can suppress perennial field bindweed vines (Sosnoskie and Hanson 2015). However, most cotton growers do not regularly apply this active ingredient in their systems; with respect to pre-emergence herbicides, pendimethalin (which is in the same chemical family as trifluralin) is more commonly used.
Studies were initiated at the UC Westside Research and Extension Center in Five Points California in May 2019 to describe the response of field bindweed to trifluralin and pendimethalin relative to an untreated check. Trifluralin (24 oz/A Treflan) and pendimethalin (24 oz/A Prowl H2O) were applied on May 24 and physically incorporated to a depth of three inches. Individual plots were 13.5 feet in width and 50 feet in length. An untreated check (UTC) was also included. Bindweed pressure in the trial was considered to be significant; approximately half of the study site was covered in vines two weeks before the initiation of the trial. To ensure sufficient contact between the herbicide and the soil surface, the trial location was repeatedly disked to remove standing vegetation. Bindweed cover and flowering was assessed weekly from June 6 until July 16.
Few pre-emergence or pre-plant incorporated herbicides are registered for the suppression of perennial field bindweed vines. Trifluralin, a dinitroaniline microtuble inhibitor, has been shown to inhibit vine emergence while pendimethalin has not. Results from the 2019 trial demonstrated that vine cover in the trifluralin treatments was reduced by 50 percent or more relative to the untreated check and pendimethalin treatments (Figure 4, above). There were no differences between pendimethalin and the UTC. By July 16, mean bindweed cover in the trifluralin plots was 45 percent, whereas cover in the pendimethalin and UTC plots were 88 percent and 93 percent respectively. Flowering didn’t commence until June 27 in all treatments (<1% – trifluralin, 11% – pendimethalin, 27% – UTC) (Figure 5, below). Trifluralin also reduced flowering potential on July 8; however, by July 16, 90 percent of emerged vines were flowering in all treatments. Pendimethalin and trifluralin control a similar spectrum of weeds; if field bindweed is a concern in a field, growers may want to consider the use of trifluralin for vine suppression.
A field trial to evaluate the combined effects of residual and postemergence herbicides and cultivation on vine control and cotton growth is ongoing and will be reported on at a later date. Results describing bindweed control in response to fall applied herbicides will also be presented later.
The University of California Agricultural Issues Center (UC AIC) and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis work with UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors and Specialists to compile cost studies for crops and livestock produced in California. These costs and return studies are used by growers, bankers, crop consultants and many others to aid in a range of farm decisions from what to plant to production specifics. Often policy makers and researchers use these cost studies as well. The current and archived cost studies can be found at: https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu/
UC AIC recently released new cost and return studies for almond production in California. These 2019 regional cost and return studies for almonds are available for the Sacramento Valley, and the Northern and Southern San Joaquin Valley. This recent update of almond studies presents an opportune time to explore trends in almond cost and returns for the most recent two decades.
Before digging into graphs and figures, it’s important to discuss the elements of the cost study. The cost and return studies are meant to be used as a guide for growers, and actual costs and returns will vary depending on the specifics of the operation, growing conditions, and orchard characteristics. Therefore, it is necessary to specify underlying assumptions for orchards represented. It is not feasible to represent the infinite number of almond production scenarios out there. The following are some of the basic assumptions of 2019 cost study for the Northern San Joaquin Valley. For the full list of assumptions for each study listed in the charts, see the cost and return studies themselves.
The orchard consists of 100 acres of almonds with a density of 130 trees per acre.
No specific variety is listed.
The useful life of the orchard is expected to be 25 years.
A new micro-sprinkler irrigation system is installed during orchard establishment.
The expected yield at maturity is 2200 lbs per acre at an expected price of $2.50/lb.
Interest rates are 5.25% for operating loans and 6% for long-term investments.
Land value is $25,200 per producing acre.
Cost of pumping irrigation water from an established well is $100 per acre-foot.
Cost of pollination is 2 hives per acre at $200 per hive.
The cost studies go into detail about the following cost categories, and provide a look at costs and returns at various yield and price combinations.
Operating costs: Any costs associated with almond production practices in a given year, including pesticide and fertilizer applications, irrigation water, labor, harvesting, interest on operating loan.
Cash overhead costs: Expenses paid that are not for a particular enterprise and should be assigned to the whole farm operation, such as office and accounting expenses, assessments, field sanitation, or equipment repairs.
Non-cash overhead costs: Annual depreciation and interest cost for farm investments. Examples include depreciation on farm machinery, well/irrigation systems, annual establishment costs, etc.
Establishment costs: Total pre-plant, planting and accumulated costs for non-bearing years. Establishment costs are amortized (spread out) over the useful life of the orchard.
Total costs: Sum of operating, cash overhead, interest and non-cash overhead costs.
Looking over these cost studies can help growers and crop advisors make sure they are incorporating all costs when making crop production decisions.
Trends in Almond Costs
To outline the trends in almond production costs, I use the 1998, 2002, 2006, 2011, 2016 and 2019 UC AIC cost and return studies for establishing and producing an almond orchard in the Northern San Joaquin Valley using micro-sprinkler irrigation. This provides an approximate idea of how costs have developed over time. The trends in most cost categories should be similar across the state, however there may be noticeable differences in certain aspects across regions, ex: land values, water costs, etc.
Figure 1 displays per-acre costs of almond production over time. All costs are adjusted to 2019 dollars to account for inflation. It is clear from the figure that from 1998 to 2016, inflation-adjusted total costs of almond production remained similar at around $4,500 per acre.
Between 2016 and 2019, total costs of almond production per-acre increased substantially (See Figure 1). The driver of this is a large increase in non-cash overhead costs. The primary increases in this cost category between 2016 and 2019 are increases in establishment costs and land values. Interest rates in 2016 were 3.25 percent compared with 6 percent in 2019, increasing establishment costs substantially. According to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, average irrigated land values in California increased by 8 percent on average from 2016 to 2019. Factoring land values into the cost of production allows growers to consider the opportunity cost of their investment in the almond orchard. Even if a grower owns the land he or she plans to establish an orchard on, he or she might be better off renting out the orchard and investing those rental revenues elsewhere.
Operating costs per acre also increased between 2016 to 2019. Much of the increase in operating costs was due to increasing labor and pesticide costs, as well as increases in the operating loan interest rates. Figure 2 shows various cost categories as a percentage of total operating costs for 2002, 2011 and 2019 almond production. In 2002, pesticides, labor and harvest comprised more than 60 percent of total operating costs. While that number dropped to roughly 43 percent in 2019, over time, pollination, irrigation and fertilizer costs have increased to make up a much larger portion of total operating costs for almond growers. Irrigation costs may continue increasing as a percentage of total operating costs given implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), however it is unclear what the effects of this regulation will be (for SGMA resources see http://groundwater.ucdavis.edu/SGMA/). Pollination fees will likely continue their trend upward as well, though growers may be able to reduce pollination costs through decreasing the number of colonies per acre, planting self-fertile varieties or making mutually beneficial contractual arrangements with the beekeeper (Goodrich, 2019; Champetier, Lee, and Sumner, 2019).
Trends in Almond Returns
Figure 3 shows the Blue Diamond average base rate for nonpareil meats from 2004 to 2018 (in 2019 dollars to adjust for inflation). Since 2016, prices have been lower than the 2004-2018 average of $3 per pound. Uncertainty in trade issues have resulted in decreased demand for almonds in a number of countries (Sumner, Hanon and Matthews, 2019). For example, almond exports to China were down 24 percent between 2018 and 2019 (Almond Board of California, 2019). This decreased demand has led to lower almond prices, and with future trade agreements still uncertain, it is unclear how prices will move going forward.
The prices a grower receives will vary by quality, size and variety. Figure 4 shows average variety prices as a percentage of nonpareil. In 2016 and 2017, other varieties were discounted fairly heavily in comparison to nonpareil, while in other years discounts were not quite as large. What impacts the size of these discounts? The relative supply and demand of nonpareil compared with other varieties. Figure 4 also displays nonpareil production as a percentage of total production from Butte/Padre, Butte, Monterey, Carmel, and Fritz. In 2017 and 2018, nonpareil production was relatively high compared to these other varieties. The large supply of nonpareil almonds drives down the price relative to other varieties, shrinking the associated premium.
Trends in Planted Acreage
Figure 3 also shows planted acreage from 2004 to 2018 by region along with the average price of nonpareil. The planted acreage trends by region look relatively similar. Over the last five years, the largest almond producing region (Southern San Joaquin Valley) has seen planted acreage drop off significantly. Water availability concerns as well as relatively low prices are likely the driving issues here. The Northern San Joaquin Valley has also seen acreage drop off, but not as substantially as its southern counterpart. Planting in the Sacramento Valley has stayed relatively consistent over the last decade or so.
Figure 5 shows planted acreage for some of the main almond varieties. Toward the middle of the series, one sees the large planted acreage for most varieties due to relatively high prices in 2004-05. Over time, acreage plantings have stabilized at lower levels. The increase in self-fertile almond acreage is noticeable in the mid 2010s. Operating cost savings from pollination and fewer equipment passes through the orchard were likely driving this trend (Champetier, Lee and Sumner, 2019). Price discounts for the Independence variety in comparison to nonpareil have stabilized, from as low as 2 to 4 percent discount in 2013-14, to on average of 11 percent over the last four years for Independence compared to nonpareil.
Overall, net returns from almond production have likely narrowed over the last decade due to increasing costs of production. Land values and interest rates have increased, increasing the costs of establishing an almond orchard. Pollination, irrigation and fertilizer costs have increased as a percentage of total operating costs, while almond prices have remained at relatively low levels over the last few years. The fact that acreage is still being planted suggests that the potential net returns remain relatively strong compared with other crops in California.
Almond Board of California. 2019. “Almond Almanac 2019”
Champetier, A., H. Lee, and D.A. Sumner. 2019. “Are the Almond and Beekeeping Industries Gaining Independence?” Choices. Quarter 4.
Goodrich, B.K. 2019. “Contracting for Pollination Services: Overview and Emerging Issues.” Choices. Quarter 4.
Sumner, D.A., T. Hanon and W.A. Matthews. 2019. “Implication of Trade Policy Turmoil for Perennial Crops” Choices. Quarter 4. Available online:
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