Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mite we talk Strawberries?


Strawberries at
 RD4AG
We have been doing strawberry work off and on for the past few years.  The low Desert of CA/AZ has been producing December-March fruit for 10 years or so, and there are around a thousand acres down here each year.  The majority of the plantings are in the Coachella Valley, closer to Palm Springs, with the rest scattered around. For the past few years we have planted a small acreage here in Yuma of commercial style Strawberries--raised beds with plastic and drip irrigated, with a first of October planting of a commercial variety.  Steve Lucich with Norcal Nursery in Red Bluff, California has been a great help to our efforts, and we sincerely appreciate his and the rest of the staff at Norcal Nursery's support.  Ron Sakuma, one of the original brothers who formed Norcal actually worked with us 25 years ago when we played with Strawberries in Colorado, but that is another story...

For pest issues we have the usual Botrytis fruit rots, and more interestingly, we typically have a significant amount of Anthracnose as a flower / fruit issue.  To the point where we won't harvest much if we do not control it.  Powdery mildew is sporadic here.

Two Spotted Mites (Image by J. Bundy)
We also have our fair share of issues with two spotted mites.  Last year they surprised us and were a real issue in our trials--except of course in our mite trials, where they were welcome!!  The planting we have in this winter has a low level of pressure as the weather is cool, and we are nurturing them so that when the weather warms back up in a month or so, we will have a thriving population where we can do trials without the concern of either a) over spray from the commercial grower, or b) complaints from the commercial grower about how we are bombing his field with mites parachuting in...


Iron is an issue in Desert Strawberries
You can also see in the image at the right that Iron can be an issue in our soils, and strawberries are the proverbial Canary ... we do a reasonable amount of fertility work since at 15 or 20 thousand dollars an acre for commercial fields, getting the growers to shut down their fertilizer program is challenging.  Same is true with transplant issues such as Phytophthora. We have the option to keep the fumigation off the blocks, and the mortality from damping off problems is somewhat frightening in the non-fumigated areas.


The one on the right does not look too happy--
root diseases strike again! The one on the left has
worm damage and the center of the flower is frosted 
Phytophthora--Killer of Youth...


One of the more interesting things about strawberries is that there is a limit on how many people want... at the beginning of harvest (December), our staff are arm wrestling to see who gets to take them home... and by March, everyone looks the other way when they walk past the boxes...

Whatever your testing needs are for Strawberries, let us know and we will work with you on a method!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Planting in Yuma

Planting more plots, this time in the Yuma area... in the Winter Wheat Planting in Montana post from last month, we were working at some points, only 50 miles from the Canadian border... here in this series, we are only 5 miles from the Mexican Border...

We are using a PlotSpider, a self propelled planter / tool bar system set up to plant trays of seeds rather than envelopes as we usually do.  This is a fairly specialized piece of equipment, and this is an older model we are resurrecting in cooperation with Dr. Oly Cantu at Arizona Plant Breeders.

The system and machine worked fine.  Oh there were the usual new equipment blues like forgetting to put the drills in the ground, but overall, it worked great.  And hopefully our alleys will be straight!!!

Calibrating to plant 4 foot plots
Kenny watching the cone and trip marks as we calibrate.
Kenny working to keep the rows straight while Cody runs the
tray planter in some 25 foot Canola plots

Canola seed in the cone



Daniel driving as Brandy runs the trays and Cody calls the trip points
in some 8 foot long wheat plots

Things moving smoothly--the buckets are to put spent trays into.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Winter Wheat Planting in Montana

A quick photo essay of the Winter Wheat planting season this fall, with lots of seed treatment trials...
















Saturday, August 23, 2014

GPS Steering and Plot Work

Auto-steer has been around for a while in the more expensive tractors.  I remember the first time I saw someone making vegetable beds with a GPS system and auto-steer—WOW!!  Traditionally, a farm would have one guy—a Prima Donna usually—who was the Lister Driver (a lister is the shovel implement which makes beds)... and this guy was revered for being able to drive straight and with consistent guess rows. 

Guess Rows are the bane in row crops… a guess row is the space between implement passes… Let’s say you have an 8 row Lister, which means it has 9 identically shaped shovels spaced EXACTLY the same distance apart, and at exactly the same depth mounted on a perfectly level tool bar.  So those 8 rows are all the same.  Same height, and of course, all the same distance from peak of the row to the peak of the adjacent rows.  In our case with vegetables, that peak to peak distance is 42.0 inches. 

So you make a pass and you have 8 beautiful beds…you get to the other end of the field and then you get ready to drive back.  In the old days we used a marker.  The marker was a shank with a small shovel of some flavor which was set so that it was in the middle of the next pass with the tractor.  The idea being that you would drive over that line and everything would be straight and even.  And this is where the “Lister Driver” excelled… he could drive that line straight as an arrow, and be only an inch or two off.  And he was king.  Everything else hinged on his straight rows.  The cultivating, the spraying, harvesting all went much better when the rows were straight and even.

So our mystical Lister Driver would make his turn and then get lined up on the mark… usually requiring a couple of backups and pull forwards to get this 28 foot implement mounted on a 300 horse tractor exactly right.  The advent of GPS accuracy, brought about after President Clinton, (during lulls between sessions with Monica) signed the bill which removed the distortion from the navigation satellites and allows sub-inch precision with the right receivers.  So now most anyone can drive a lister, do a better job and be quicker.  Why? Because when you make your turns, you don’t have to line up adjacent to the previous pass, you can make a broader and easier turn, kick on the auto-steer when you are close and the machine takes over and puts you right where you want to be.
4 Little Devils Farming's 28 foot Lister completing
 a pass in an RD4AG field soon to be in Lettuce.  Take a
tape, every bed is 42.0 inches apart


Back when, the suggestion that you could list 28 feet, move over 112 feet, and have that pass end up being in the right spot, and I mean DEAD ON, was the dream at beer bashes and whiskey parties.  And today, most anyone can do it. But these systems work best at 3 mph plus and they are a 30-50 thousand dollar add on to the hydraulic systems on to a new or used tractor.  And they don’t really put them on small tractors like we use in research. A few years back Trimble decided to appease the Tulip growers in Holland, designing a system which would be accurate at the 2 kph (1.2 mph) speed they used when transplanting.

But those are still expensive ad ons—to do the plumbing into your existing tractors hydraulics was pushing 20 grand, plus another 10 for the GPS system.  For most of us, that would more than double the tractor value!  We have been working with our friends at Triangle Ag in Fort Benton, Montana on this for a while.  DeImna worked in research while getting her degree at University of Idaho, so she was sympathetic to our issues, and she made the error of not hanging up on me the first time I called…

With her help, we found a good used Trimble FMX GPS machine and then we bought the components to put Trimble’s gear based steering wheel auto steer system.  It still cost us 10 grand but we felt like this was a bargain for technology we needed as the precision required of us gets tighter and tighter each season.  We have been playing with this for the past couple months, and we are finally getting it dialed into where we want.  The first tries found the machine not sure which line it should be taking… we are doing passes of 5 or 6 or 7 feet at 1.5 mph when planting, and that takes different settings than 28 feet at 5mph… but as you can see from the photos from yesterday’s corn planting, we are getting the hang of it.  Our guess rows are 41-42-43 inches, on a nominal 42, so things are good.  And this makes such a huge improvement in the other tasks later…  
Straight rows... Magical!  The angled dirt ridge is from a previous operation.
Those are Medjool Date palms in the back ground.


Our Excellent SRES Runabout Research Planter

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Spring Part 2

The month of April has been a busy one....  We wrapped up all of our lettuce work... we had about 15 acres of various lettuces in plots this past season... and that is a BUNCH (ha ha) of lettuce!  The disease pressure this spring for Downy Mildew was as heavy as we have ever seen it... and the Powdery was plentiful as well... but we won't bore you with pictures of diseased plants...

We have a fairly large program in Montana this year, and while travelling up with the cone drill, we spotted this guy outside of Bozeman.  No, we did not stop to pick him up.  (thanks to Mike Beevers of Cal Ag Research for pointing this fellow out to us).

Once we arrived in Montana, this is what our plots looked like... this is at the Eddies corner trial site, but the others in Malta and Sun River looked about the same.  We did not see any differences among any of our variety nor fertilizer nor seed treatment trials in regards to the amount of snow cover on the plots.



Meanwhile back in Yuma we were hitting 90 degree weather, even kissing 100 a couple of days...  You would think that this would push the wheat along, but it did not... by the 10th or so we were able to get in and start slowly... things were PLENTY wet... most of the early samples had to be left out to air dry.  Despite the way it may look here, Isaiah is NOT trying to dry out the plot with a leaf blower.... but there were times when it seemed like a good idea....

Besides moisture, we also had bird issues at one of our farms, so we dragged out our bird netting and put it up over the the trial in the way of the flock... it is much more enjoyable to shoot the damn things, but one can only have so much fun...  Putting up this kind of netting works well, and there is a certain amount of pleasure to be had watching the red-winged blackbirds frantically trying to get through the nets... if you decide you would like to make a blackbird pie, let us know and we will go get 4 and twenty for you...


 This year we took on a larger project with involved several one hectare breeder seed plots.  Since the seed was due for export to Canada, we needed to clean it as well, which for the small cleaners normally found at a facility such as ours, cleaning 70,000 pounds of seed requires some new thinking.  While in Montana dropping off equipment, I stumbled across an older Clipper Super 49BD thanks to the great assistance of our friend Ernest Bergsagel.  Ernest tracked down some motors and had some augers made, and the set up is as you can see at the right...

But getting this beast out of the snow and onto a trailer proved challenging... it weighs 3000 pounds or so... as I was leaving Montana, I pulled into one cooperating Farmers yard, and Paul asks "You been robbing the Smithsonian?" I felt redeemed when I got to Great Falls and another Farmer, Chuck says "A 49! We have a 57 we use all the time (the 57 is the next bigger size).

This machine will handle better than 100 bu an hour, but not with us running it at the moment.  It does a decent job, and once we get it fully setup, it will be excellent.  Interestingly, this series was manufactured from 1938 to 1967.  Ours was made in 1950.  The parts guy at AT Ferrell, told me that he sells $120,000 dollars a month in parts for these "old" cleaners, shipping them all over the world.  All of the pieces I asked him about he had in stock...  The Clipper brand, and AT Ferrell have always been well respected, and I can see why... we have one of their desktop cleaners.. it will handle about 30 pounds an hour (and it cost us $2,300 new 10 years ago), but it has always been a good machine.

But we still need to get the crop off, so we fitted Aiavata (our name for our bigger combine) with a pickup header and had the fields wind-rowed commercially, rigged up a transport system with Supersacks and stared to it... Not fast compared to the big machines of today, but it does Okay.  The tank holds 3600 pounds or so of wheat, so we are able to get most of an acre with this early terminated and shortchanged wheat---which is intentional since we are trying to get it harvested early and shipped for seeding in the Northern part of the continent... the trade off is yield, and I should add, ease of harvest and cleaning.

And of course... we have had some fun weather...

Nothing like a little breeze on a spray day...


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Different Kind of Winter Wonderland!

Spring in March!!

While the rest of the country is buried under cold and winter and snow, we are rolling fast and furious here in the desert.  Our normal temperatures here are in the mid-s70's this time of year, but for the past couple weeks, we have been running 10-15 degrees above that.  Much of the staff is in shorts, and we are pretty smug about our weather... of course we will be longing for these temperatures come July...

Wheat

Our wheat nurseries are mostly heading.  We have a full 50 acres of wheat nurseries this year, representing thousands of plots... with luck the weather will stay warm and we will be harvesting by mid April

Lettuce and Broccoli

Our first planting of lettuce is long gone--we spent our time on the ground cutting, evaluating and weighing some drought trials as well as market evaluations of insecticide programs.  T

he second planting is getting close, the third planting, which is a full 10 acres, is abut 10 leaf with aphids showing up and mildew apps already being underway, and the 4th lettuce planting was just thinned.  Broccoli is about the, the first planting is out, second is harvesting now, and the final planting is getting aphids now.

Canola

We also have about 12 acres of Canola plots.. the early plantings from October are already 7 feet tall, and the later plantings are just emerging

Strawberries

Always a crowd pleaser, our acre of strawberries are coming on strong... we are giving tones of them away as we get ready to start in with our fertility and botrytis trials.  And we have a few thrips to count too!

Carrots

Last week was carrot harvest... we made Bugs Bunny jealous!

Tomatoes and Peppers

We will be back in the ground with Tomatoes and Peppers by the end of next week... it seems like it was just a month ago we disked out our fall fruiting vegetables... that's because it was...

Corn

We wrapped up the fall corn program here 2 weeks ago.... our field corn variety screens ran from 108 to 200 bu per acre... some varieties like the fall window, some don't.  We will put up a separate post with the results from various maturity groups in the near future.  Our spring program, which will have several drought trials as well as fertility programs, and a seed increase on the docket as well, will get planted in the next 14 days!

Melons

We have watermelons in the greenhouse, and cantaloupe seed waiting.. Like the corn, that will all go in between now and the 15th of March.

This is the time of year when sitting in a snow bank sounds pretty good...

Friday, February 7, 2014

NAICC Meeting 2014

Four of our RD4AG team traveled to New Orleans for the 2014 National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants annual meeting last week. Paulo Dafoe (Research Biologist II), Laurinda Baird (Facility Coordinator), along with our fearless President Lee West and VP Steve West braved a cold week in a cold hotel, but were warmed by the usual great camaraderie and excellent topics on the program.

Since most all of the independent field researchers in the country attend this meeting, many of the clients take the opportunity to get their research partners together for some training and updates on what they have in mind for the upcoming year.  This makes for a long week, since those start in 8 am Monday morning, and the meeting does not really start until Thursday!

Other opportunities we take are for formal GLP training, and this year Lee and Laurinda went through that while Paulo and Steve sat in on a full day of Ag Research Manager (ARM) software training from Steve Gylling.  We all learned alot.  Even though Lee and Steve have been doing this for over 30 years now, there is still more to know... updates in interpretations of regulations, refinements in software, new needs of clients, and reminders on things important to all.

The Sessions this year were also quite good!  Some excellent topics including spray technology, BQMS training from USDA, updates from EPA, some business topics and the new products/technology sessions.

RD4AG Staff were also on the program this year, Lee West to talk about the NAICC Ag Leadership Program and Steve West presented to the QA sessions about "What QA's Need to Know about Crops"

One of the highlights is always the Friday Night Gathering, and this year it was a Mardis Gras party... Here is a great image from the gathering... Patrick Stephenson from the UK dressed up as... something, and Roger Musick from Crop Guard Research in Oklahoma doing.... something.

It was a great week with old friends seen, new friends made and several pounds heavier after all the great New Orleans food!