Caltec Shares Innovative Pest Control Practices

A New Approach to Managing Vine Mealybug

By Hannah Young, Contributing Editor

Some innovative pest and disease control products, such as heat application to kill insects, are making their way to the market, according to Caltec.

California Ag Today spoke with Rudy Monnich, president of Caltec Ag, about some of the new ways California farmers are fighting pests.

caltec
Rudy Monnich with Caltec

“We have a product which is the diatomaceous earth that controls vine mealybugs and ants and mites in orchards and vineyards,” Monnich said, adding, “There is nothing more damaging than vine mealybug. In fact, Monterey County is forming a committee to be zero tolerant just for that insect pressure.”

The product is silica dioxide and will scarify the body of insects, dehydrate them, and in result kill them off in three or four days, Monnich explained.

However, the product is not a chemical, but a mineral, which significantly diminishes resistance issues.

“You don’t have the resistant issues build up,” Monnich said. “It’s also controlling thrip and whitefly in tomatoes.”

Caltec introduced the product this past spring.

Heat application can also be used by growers to combat insect problems.

“We are working with the Agrothermal people who have a machine that 300-degree to 400-degree temperatures will annihilate soft-bodied insects in tomatoes and powdery mildew in grapes,” Monnich said.

The application of heat kills the spores before signs of damage appear on the plant, Monnich explained.

This method of pest control is increasing the quality of wine, Monnich concluded.

Past CFBF President Pauli Reflects Back

Former head of California Farm Bureau Federation played instrumental part in many ag issues

 

California Ag Today enjoyed a recent conversation with Bill Pauli who farms wine grapes and Bartlett pears in Mendocino County on the North Coast.

Past California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli
Past California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli

Pauli was one of many that interviewed at the California Farm Bureau Federation’s 98th annual Conference in Monterey earlier this month.

Pauli served as President of the California Farm Bureau Federation during some very challenging times.  “I started clear back in 1981 as a vice-president of the California Farm Bureau, and culminated with president in 2005.

“During that period, I was heavily involved with CALFED and the Delta issues, which are so important to us and for which we’re seeing the issues today with the Delta and water supply and water management and availability,” Pauli said.

CALFED was created because of the importance of the Delta to California. The majority of the state’s water runs through the Delta and into aqueducts and pipelines that distribute it to 25 million Californians throughout the state, making it the single largest and most important source of water for drinking, irrigation and industry.

“I was also involved in a lot of the worker compensation issues, because when Governor Schwarzenegger came in, that was the big issue, or rates and what we were paying. That was always the important issue for me. We had all the other issues related to labor over that period of time, along with the environmental issues that continue to expand.

It’s not news that California Farm Bureau carries the water for almost all the other farming organizations in many ways noted Pauli.

“The thing that’s so unique about the California Farm Bureau, and our county farm bureaus in every county of the state, is that we represent all of agriculture.

CFBF represents 450 different commodities for the individual grower all the way down to the local ag level in California.

We have the big, broad-picture issues, but there’s also the local issues that are so important to the individual producer,” Pauli said.

Wilson Vineyards Fully Mechanized

Mechanization is Future for Winegrapes

Ken Wilson, winegrape grower and owner of Wilson Vineyards in Clarksburg, just south of Sacramento, farms 12 different winegrape varieties and has been enjoying a productive season despite hot weather. Wilson’s top winegrape varieties are Chardonnay, Petite Sirah and Pinot Grigio (Italian), also known as Pinot Gris (French), and Chenin Blanc.

Presently, Wilson’s winegrapes are past veraison, a stage of ripening in the physical grape maturation cycle in which the berry starts to soften and take on sweetness and color. Veraison is an excellent phase for the winegrapes to be in at this point in the season.

Wilson elaborated, “Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are probably the furthest ahead, then Pinot Noir at 50 to 60%, and finally, Chardonnay around 30%. We’re getting good color and size now.”

Despite hot weather this year, Wilson says, “it hasn’t been too bad.” Most of his grapes are already contracted, and he anticipates a good vintage. “There are a couple of tons here and there, but [the winegrapes] have been pretty much sold out since early spring,” Wilson commented.

Wilson warned the higher cost of labor due to the recent minimum wage increase in California from $10 per hour currently to $15 in 2020. “We get pretty good winegrape prices. I’m not speaking for the district. I don’t know how some of these guys are going to survive,” he explained.

“We’re going to be forced into mechanization, and the wineries are just going to have to accept it. I think they are going to accept it, if they don’t want to pay [labor increases] anymore,” Wilson said.

Nevertheless, Wilson is more fortunate than some other growers because his vineyard is completely mechanized. “We’re 100 percent machine—other than a couple of special jobs where the winery who wants the grapes will pay for workers for hand harvest.

In comparison to Wilson Vineyards, vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma regions will experience significant wage increases because their winegrapes are hand-harvested. “The only hand harvesting we do amounts to less than one percent,” Wilson said.

Though Wilson evaluated this year’s crop as better than last year, “I think, overall, it is probably not much better than an average harvest, and yields may even be a little lighter than the average. I would say overall about 7.5 tons of winegrapes,” Wilson noted.

 

Specialty Crop School Scheduled in Salinas Oct. 7-9

Salinas Valley Short-Course to Focus on Business and Regulatory Drivers for Coastal Crops

The October 7-9  Specialty Crop School features California’s Salinas Valley where lettuce, cole crops, strawberries and wine grapes reign.

This intensive 3-day course has been specifically designed for suppliers to specialty crop businesses who require an in-depth understanding of key drivers impacting Salinas Valley growers and their purchasing and management decisions. The year-round production cycle of the Salinas Valley sends fresh leafy greens, vegetables and other cool season crops to markets around the world.

Participants will return to their organizations equipped with new information to refine their business strategies according to new food safety, pest management, traceability and water requirements as well as meeting retailer demands.

The Salinas Valley School, headquartered in Watsonville, will include field visits to farms, processing facilities and research centers as well as discussions with growers, pest management experts, agronomists, regulators and university scientists. Field stops are planned in lettuce, cole crops, artichokes, strawberries, seed production and winegrapes.

Featured speakers include Bonnie Fernandez from the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis; Richard Smith, Monterey County Cooperative Extension; Becky Sisco from the IR-4 Minor Use Registration Program; Richard Spas, CA Department of Pesticide Regulation and representatives from several local farming companies.

Early-bird rates are available until September 10 and registration closes on October 1. Class size is limited and seats are available on a first come, first served basis.

For complete Specialty Crop School course topics and registration information, go to www.specialtycropschool.com

Caifornia drought transforms global food

Source: Jeannette E. Warnert; ANR News Blog

Due to the California drought and what scientists believe will be a drier future, the state’s farmers will likely move away from commodity crops to focus on high-value products like almonds, pistachios and wine grapes, according to Richard Howitt, agricultural economist at UC Davis. Howitt was used as a source in a lengthy story on Bloomberg.com about repercussions worldwide of the three-year dry spell in the Golden State.

Another source was Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center. He said shifts in California ag trends reverberate globally.

“It’s a really big deal,” Sumner said. “Some crops simply grow better here than anyplace else, and our location gives us access to markets you don’t have elsewhere.”

California is the United States’ top dairy producer and grows half of the country’s fruit. In 2012, almonds became the state’s second-most valuable ag crop. The Washington Post reported that in the U.S., almond consumption has grown by more than 220 percent since 2005. In the late 2010s, almonds surpassed the long-running nut leader peanuts (not including peanut butter) in per capita consumption.

The Bloomberg article opened with the story the Fred Starrh‘s family farm in Kern County. The Starrh family was a prominent cotton grower for more than 70 years. The shifting global market and rising water prices prompted the family to replace more of their cotton plants with almonds.

“I can’t pay $1,000 an acre-foot (of water) to grow cotton,” said Starrh, 85.

California grows four-fifths of the world’s almonds, the Bloomberg story said, using enough water to meet the needs of 75 percent of the state’s population. An advocate for bigger water supplies for cities suggests in the story that farmers should be profitable, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of urban water ratepayers.

Local California Table Grapes are Going Global

Harvesting California table grapes is going strong. Many different varieties are being picked, and boxed in the vineyard and sent to the cooler for market.CATableGrapes

“We’re harvesting in the San Joaquin Valley now, and just finishing up in the Coachella Valley,” said Kathleen Nave, President of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission. “The grapes are moving quickly into the marketplace in the US, Canada and around the world.”

“Mother nature has been kind so far with respect to the quality and the weather.” said Nave.

California Table Grape Commission is implementing a Grapes From California marketing campaign to connect with consumers around the world, as well in the U.S., focusing on usage, or ways in which grapes are consumed, and health benefits.

“We have brand new television commercials airing on the Food Network,” said Nave, “and we have Food Network magazine ads in the U.S. and similar ads in other parts of the world,” she added.

Nave said that the state’s grape growers have been amazing, producing two record crops, back-to-back, and now maybe a third. “So in 2012, we crossed the 100 million-box mark for the first time, and in 2013 ,we took a very big, unexpected jump, to 117 million. Our estimate for 2014 is just slightly higher than last year’s estimate,” said Nave.

Governor Brown Signs Bill Allowing Wine Tasting at Farmers’ Markets

By David Siders; The Sacramento Bee

Californians can start sipping wine at farmers markets. Immediately.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced he has signed an urgency measure allowing winegrowers who bottle their own wine to conduct instructional tastings at California’s numerous farmers markets. Assembly Bill 2488, by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, was approved by both houses of the Legislature without dissent.

The bill expands a provision of state law allowing the sale of estate-grown wine at farmers markets. Wine industry groups said the inability to offer samples hurt sales in an industry in which customers are accustomed to a taste.

Brown, a Democrat, signed the legislation without comment. It was one of 10 bills the governor announced signing Tuesday.

The measure requires wine tasting areas to be separated from the rest of the farmers market by a rope or other barrier, and it limits tastings to three ounces per patron per day.

Proponents of the bill said it would help small wineries build their brand. Opponents, including the California Council on Alcohol Problems, opposed the measure, according to a legislative analysis.

Table Grape Harvest Now Underway in SJV

Source: Cecilia Parsons; Ag Alert

Color, sugar content and berry size of many early table grape varieties hit harvest targets last week in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Harvest in the Arvin area of Kern County is a week to 10 days earlier than normal this year, according to grape grower Ryan Zaninovich. Harvest of the San Joaquin Valley’s 70 to 80 varieties of red, green and black table grapes will continue through November.

Zaninovich, chairman of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League and manager at Vincent B. Zaninovich & Sons Inc. in Richgrove, said warm spring weather is driving earlier harvests in all grape-growing regions of the state. The desert region table grape harvest began in late April and will wind down this month, as harvest transitions to the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Coming off a record-production year of 117.4 million 19-pound boxes for all growing regions in 2014, Zaninovich said yields from this crop are estimated to be about average to larger with excellent quality. An updated crop estimate will be released in July, prior to the peak of the California harvest. Coachella contributes about 5 million boxes to the total.

Zaninovich and retired Kern County Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor Don Luvisi said no serious pest or disease issues are looming for growers. Grape quality is expected to be excellent again this year, with only minimal sunburn where canopies are light.

“When we have good spring weather, that generally means the quality will be high,” Zaninovich said. Grape mealybug is always an issue, but growers have been able to keep them under control, he added. Growers keep up with pest control and suppress powdery mildew early, Luvisi said.

The biggest challenges this season for growers will be water and labor. Most depend entirely on groundwater supplies for irrigation. Adequate water not only ensures higher yields, but also protects vines from stress that invites pests and disease.

“We’re all relying on groundwater and hoping the wells don’t go dry. I’ve heard of a few growers who are having issues with their wells,” Zaninovich said. “We all have strategies for best water use and to protect the longevity of the vines.”

Zaninovich said different varieties of table grapes use different amounts of water during the year. Varieties that are harvested early in the season or have lighter yields use less water than heavier producers or varieties harvested later in the season.

Labor will cost more this harvest season and availability could become a problem for growers later in the season, and many varieties and other hand-harvested crops demand labor, said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

“There are no reports of shortages now, but the crunch time comes in August and September, when we’re competing with other harvests,” he said.

Harvest crews are paid by the hour with bonuses per box. Bedwell said they average higher than minimum wage, but growers base their pay on the state minimum wage. The harvest requires skilled labor, and crew members can average $10 to $14 an hour, he said. Table grapes are field packed into boxes and trucked to cold storage prior to shipping.

California’s approximately 500 table grape growers are looking at strong prices and robust export sales this year, according to Bedwell. The trend for both is upward, as growers are coming off two strong sales years.

Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, said table grape growers have been extending their harvest season with new early and later varieties of grapes. Red grapes dominate the top five. Flame, Scarlet Royal and Red Globe are the top three varieties in acres planted. Autumn King and Sugarone are two of the most popular green grapes, while Autumn Royal is the most popular black grape.

“With a longer harvest season and promotion efforts, we expect exports to be up,” Nave said.

Canada, Mexico and China are top export destinations for California table grapes. Bedwell pointed out that while California products are popular in China, that country’s table grape production far outpaces California. With annual production hitting 1 billion boxes, their Red Globe varieties alone equal all of California’s production.

China has begun the process of exporting grapes to the United States, Bedwell noted, and is currently in the pest review process—which could take another three years.

Luvisi said the biggest change in table grape production over the past 20 years has been the development of many seedless varieties.

“Seeded grapes are really hard to find now,” Luvisi said. Older varieties like Thompson Seedless are also being replaced with varieties that hit certain market windows. He noted Kern County table grape growers have planted a newer green variety, Superior Seedless, after taking out Thompson Seedless vineyards. Zaninovich said he has planted another newer green variety, Autumn King, which is a heavy producer.

In the past few weeks, Luvisi said, Kern County growers were checking vineyards for color, sugar and berry size to determine when to harvest. Market demand and prices also drive the decision, he said.

Recent weather has been an advantage. Temperatures above 95 degrees slow down development; cooler days with 85 to 95 degrees push maturity. When bunches of red grapes are 95 percent colored, Luvisi said harvest will begin. Green grape maturity is determined by sugar content. Berries will continue to size until picked, he added.

“We’ve had perfect weather for making sugar,” he said.

Local Winery Aims to Unify Farming Community

A California Winery hopes to unify the farming community and spread agricultural awareness.

George Meyer, owner and winemaker for Farmer’s Fury Winery, talks about his hope to bring farmers together, and to create more awareness about the agricultural industry as a whole.

“So with the Farmer’s Fury I think that represents many people in the valley, many farmers, not just the grape industry, not the almond industry, but farmers in general. As Congressman Nunes is saying, we need to unite and have one voice, so that’s kind of what I envisioned,” said Meyer.

Meyer also noted the specific reason behind the winery’s name.

“Farmer’s Fury started in 2009, that was our first year. The name Farmer’s Fury came about the water rallies and water issues were having in 2009, another big drought year like we are having this year,” said Meyer. “I wanted a name that wasn’t just about wine, wasn’t about my family, but I wanted to represent an area community, which I think is the Central Valley here. The farmers and our attitude, of how we are being treated and the things that are going through.” he added.

Farmer’s Fury Winery uses various methods to spread the word about agricultural awareness.

“We do that in the back of our wine bottles, we do ag facts, we do all kinds of different things, trying to promote agriculture to people who don’t know. And even people who do know, they don’t know the other industries out there.” said Meyers.

The winery is based right in the Central Valley.

“The facility where we make the wine in Paso Robles, and our taste room in Downtown Lemoore,” said Meyer.

The taste room is open Wednesdays and Saturdays 4-10pm, with live music every Friday and Saturday.

For more information, head to FarmersFuryWines.com

Views on Food: Outsmarting the Drought

By Elaine Corn; The Sacramento Bee

Shahar Caspi tends acres of gardens, fruit trees and a commercial vineyard in the hamlet of Oregon House in the foothills between Marysville and Grass Valley. His job since 2012 has been raising food year round for his community and bringing perfect wine grapes to harvest – all without tilling, and with little to zero added water.

We drove between two fields, one side brown, ragged and parched, the other a Caspi no-water showcase – grape vines in bud break, the ground beneath them rich, a natural ground cover green as jade.

“Mulch with shredded roots,” he says exuberantly, eyes off the road. “Very simple!”

At a sunny glade, another concept preps cherry trees. He walks us past huge square holes he flushed with water and allowed to drain. The holes were filled with Caspi’s mulch, manure and compost, then a tree. “They won’t need water for many, many months.”

Back in the greenhouse next to his mountaintop home, Caspi laid manure on the rock-hard dirt floor, and on purpose didn’t till the soil underneath. He stuck chard seedlings directly into the manure. “They flourished immediately,” Caspi says. “The roots went sideways into a huge mass of roots. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

And despite no rainfall the first four months of his second season of raising food for his neighbors, water usage dropped 30 percent and yields increased.

How does he do it?

The same way a dietitian would bulk up a wasting patient with lots of calories and nutrients. Except Caspi is like a soil chef, mixing fermented manure and compost in varying proportions “to re-establish a whole layer of soil that holds water” like a subterranean sponge.

The technique is reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner’s bio-dynamics, which treats the farm as a holistic entity. But considering Caspi’s past and combining it with an uncertain future of water in California, a goal of using zero water to grow food is understandable.

Caspi grew up inculcated with respect for water. In Israel, kids get “Don’t Waste A Drop” stickers in school that go on the family fridge. “It’s so much in our blood to save water,” he says. “We had a cartoon that showed the whole family showering together under a few drops of water.”

Modern drip irrigation with emitters was an idea out of Israel. So is placing black plastic sheeting over soil to contain moisture. Israel leads the world in recycling 80 percent of its water. Its latest technology collects dew.

In California, some growers are on top of the drought. A report from the California Farm Water Coalition says that in the San Joaquin Valley $2.2 billion was invested in drip irrigation on 1.8 million acres. But for every conserver using soil probes, infrared photography and improved weather forecasting, we have devourers of resources.

“Here you flood fields,” Caspi says. “An Israeli would say, ‘Are you kidding?’ It’s the mentality of abundance, that it’s going to last forever.”

In 2008, winemaker Gideon Beinstock hired Caspi to be vineyard manager at Renaissance Vineyard and Winery in Oregon House. With Caspi’s degree in plant sciences from The Hebrew University and years of experience in water strategy in Israel, his mission was to convert 45 acres of conventionally cultivated vineyard to fully bio-dynamic viticulture.

Production costs went down by 12 percent. Yields increased between 3 percent and 7 percent.

Beyond his work at the vineyard, Caspi tends the gardens of about 50 “member” neighbors in and around Oregon House. Because this is a rural community, Caspi can put a sign on the road saying “manure needed,” and loads are brought to him for fermenting.

The finished manure plus organic matter from garden waste, wood ash and olive paste all come from within a 10-mile radius. It returns to the members in the form of Caspi’s magical soil smoothie that retains water and nourishes roots.

In the garden, take a load off and don’t till. Then follow Caspi’s instructions.

Find a source of manure and compost. Lay a thick layer, up to 4 inches, on the ground and plant right into it. Apply plant by plant rather than over the entire garden. For tomatoes, dig a deep hole, water the hole until the water drains, fill the hole with a mix of chicken manure and compost, then a tomato seedling. Add a bit more nitrogen in the form of half a teaspoon of chicken manure when you dig the hole. Water once more.

How long can you go without added water? A week? A month? Water only if lack of moisture is detected by sticking a finger into the ground. “The first year is hardest,” Caspi says. “Don’t give up. If you fail, you try again.”

As to your own sense of food security, you can have a community-supported agriculture system on your street. “One person grows the potatoes, someone else grows the beans, and another person grows herbs,” Caspi explains. Everyone adds to the pile tended by the neighborhood compost geek. In a few years, the soil will be so absorptive it will gulp winter rainwater and retain it through summer.

Without access to the livestock that live near Caspi, there might be a cost for store-bought manure, unless you have a friend with a horse, a cow or chickens. When a crop is ready, deliveries begin in staggered availability.

With wells already stressed in the Sierra foothills, Caspi remains an Israeli at heart, tinkering for extra droplets of water in what he presumes is a terminal drought.

“The plant takes only what it needs,” Caspi says. “This is how it works in nature. If you don’t need it, why do you want to take it?”

To protect ourselves from food shortages and to buffer California’s agricultural economy, we all should regard any adjustments that allow us to grow food with less water as permanent.