Archive for August, 2010

The best laid plans

I have a vineyard I’ve been consulting on for a number of years now in southwest Fresno county. When I first started there was a terrible problem with mites. The mites were out of control in the late summer and took at least two pesticide applications to control. The biggest issue contributing to the problem was dust. The vineyard is located near the main shop and main road in and out of the area. Traffic was heavy all around the vineyard, especially during harvest season when surrounding lettuce, tomatoes and onions dramatically increased the volume of trucks and labor moving through the area. It took some time and pushing but we finally got traffic rerouted and a water truck making frequent runs to keep the road wet to finally bring the dust issue under control. For a few years we were able to avoid a mite spray altogether. A few years ago a neighbor planted Almonds next to the vineyard. Hasn’t been a problem until this year the started farming them organically. The mites were not controlled with the organic pesticides and got so bad the started defoliating the trees. Finally the mites blew into the vineyard. So much for our balanced program. We sprayed the vineyard once but if the mites continue to blow in, we may need to spray again. Who says organic always decreases pesticide use?

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To be or not to be, organic, why is that the question?

Seems like there has been a lot of talk, hype, musing, etc, on organic farming being the savior of the planet and the answer to all our food and environmental needs. Can there really be one simple answer to all of our woes? If you listen to the those that firmly believe in the organic lifestyle, you would think so. But I think that any reasonable person would think that there is a place for a fully organic style of farming and a place of more “conventional” means. There is even a place for biotech crops, if used wisely and judiciously. I have many farmers I work with that use Roundup Ready crops (crops you can spray with Roundup to kill weeds but won’t kill the crop) to help with weed control. But they can’t plant just these kinds of crop all the time in every field. The weeds would evolve to being resistant to Roundup and that system would not work any more. So we rotate in and out of these crops. Is there a chance that the Genetically Modified (GM) crop would escape and grow wild and pollute the gene pool of natural crops? Well, there isn’t much wild corn or cotton around so that seems to be a false premise to me. Most crop plants do not do well outside of a farmer’s field anyway. They are bred to be pampered. Now, there are some social issue I have with GM crops, especially in poor countries where farmers really can’t afford the strings attached to these crops. But that is for another post. Genetic modification has been going on a long time in farming. This new kind of genetic modification I think can be a good thing and shouldn’t be labeled as something evil.

Now back to organic farming. Why is it better than other types of farming? I’m not really sure. People say they like organic because there are no pesticides. Well, that is a myth the organic farming machine does little to dispel. In fact, on the organic crops I look at, I generally use more pesticides than on the other crops. Organic pesticides do not work as well and do not last as long as the chemically made ones. So you use more. Better for the environment or the food? I don’t really know. I do know that the toxicity of many of the regular pesticides I use are not any more toxic than some of the organic ones. I do try hard to use the least toxic ones available. Chemical fertilizer is bad for the soil? I haven’t seen that directly. If a farmer is using chemical fertilizer alone, I do see that the soil gets worn out faster. But most farmers are not doing that. Chemical fertilizer is just one tool they use in the whole program. Most farmers need to maximize yield to the fullest extent to pay the bills and that is hard to do on a purely organic program. Which is why organic food costs more. You need to use more expensive organic inputs and the yields are generally lower. The market is also not as big for organic food, as many people can’t afford them, so they can’t put all their crops into that market. Most of the growers I know who grow organic produce also grow non-organic crops as well because they can’t find a market of everything in the organic arena.

There is a big bandwagon going around now that we need to all eat local, organic food. Well, I like that idea of a farmer’s market where you go and buy directly from the farmer and all is happy happy touchy feely. But there are a lot of people that needs to be fed in this world. Farmers are having a hard time making money as it is. We cannot support our whole ag industry just on locally grown food. We need to sell to other places and export as well. Organic, local, etc, has a place but it is a place in the picture, not the whole picture. If we can’t find a way to support all of our agriculture, we may see that we can’t sustain any of it.

Border Patrol and rot watch

Well, it is now August. I have a harvester in one tomato field and two melon fields. Not nearly as close to more fields coming off than I usually am this time of year. We started some wine grapes last year by the second week of August but my earliest block of White Zins are not even fully colored yet. Table grapes and stone fruit seem to be the only crops that are not significantly late. So now in the raisin and wine grapes, that need to hang until the get very, very sweet, I do what I call Border Patrol and rot watch. Border patrol is just making sure no mites are coming in from neighboring crops or along dusty roads. These are notorious “hot” spots for mites. We have all the fields sprayed for mites now and we just need to keep them under control for a few more weeks. The morning dews have been good with the night time temperatures being cool so this helps to slow the mite populations down. I am also on the look out in the grapes for rot

. As the clusters ripen and the berries soften, they have a tendency to pop and leak, especially if the bunches are real tight. This tightness of bunches is usually dependent on the variety. The leakiness of the berries is also dependent on variety, for the most part. Also growing conditions can cause the skin of the berries to be thin and that is also a problem. With this cooler growing season we make see more leaking, which means we may need to use more fungicides (pesticides that kill fungal diseases) than we normally would. And if the grapes hang longer trying to sugar up, that leaves them vulnerable to more rot developing. We have issues with rot an mold on other crops as well. Tomatoes are vulnerable to rot and mold as they ripen. Sun damage on the exposed fruit makes the tomatoes susceptible to black mold . So we spray to keep that from developing as well. This year is seems the cooler nights have come earlier and the dew on the exposed fruit is starting up black mold earlier. So if people wonder why some pesticide use goes up this year, it’s all in the weather!

Thanks to UCIPM for the photos