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Rural development no subsitute for farm policy

A recent news item on NPR's “Morning Edition” featured the release of a policy report, "Reversing Rural America's Economic Decline: The Case for a National Balanced Growth Strategy," by the Progressive Policy Institute.

The report argues that "Fundamental structural changes in technology, markets, and organizations are redrawing our nation's economic map and leaving many rural areas behind. Yet our de-facto federal rural policy providing massive subsidies to a shrinking number of farmers does little to help develop competitive rural economies or boost opportunities for rural residents."

The report says that U.S. agricultural policy should undergo "a dramatic change in the subsidy system based on a two-track process: First, the United States should press for serious negotiations with other developed nations and the World Trade Organization to mutually agree to phase down farm subsidies. Second, here at home we should gradually shift agricultural subsidies toward a 15-year effort to help rural America develop a new competitive economy base and help the nation develop a better balance between its metropolitan and rural economies." The full report is available online at

Programs to bolster rural development are important components of farm policy in its broadest sense. The Progressive Policy Institute should be commended for advancing the issue. But it is critical that a distinction be made between commodity programs and rural development programs. Although they overlap some, one cannot be substituted for the other.

The two-track process referred to in the report can be rephrased as follows: U.S. agriculture will be fine if the developed countries of the world do away with their domestic subsidies and remaining trade barriers are eliminated. Then, once crop agriculture's problems are fixed by fully releasing it to free markets, we can use those billions of dollars of savings to jump-start rural America.

The premise that subsidies are the cause of agriculture's price and market-income problems is widely held. It seems to make so much sense. The seemly obvious solution is to eliminate them. But that prescription assumes that the supply and demand for total food and for the total of agricultural commodities react robustly and quickly to changes in their prices lower prices, that is. But that's the rub.

Low crop prices do not induce people to shift from eating three meals a day to four, thus diminishing food surpluses and causing prices to rise. Likewise farmers do not leave significant acreage unplanted in response to low prices. The result is that in the short to medium run, the market signals that work well in other economic sectors do not work in crop agriculture. Thus, subsidies or not, aggregate crop output and farm prices would be nearly the same as under the current (all-out-production-type) program.

Subsidies are the chosen response to crop agriculture's chronic price and income problems, not the basic cause of those problems. Without that understanding, it is common for the well-intentioned to think: "Well, if we are going to spend all that money on agriculture, the least we should do is change the criteria for distributing it so it better addresses (fill in the blank objective)." So in this context, the farm program is consciously or unconsciously portrayed as a solution looking for a problem.

In order to have the "savings" to apply to rural development programs, commodity programs would need to be revamped so farmers receive more of their revenue from the market and much less from government payments. Simply doing away with subsidies here and abroad will not cause a significant increase in market receipts.

There is no doubt that rural development programs and commodity programs have overlapping effects and the degree of overlap can be influenced by which instruments are chosen and how they are administered. But to think that production agriculture will be well-served by replacing commodity programs lock, stock and barrel with other farm/rural programs is to fail to recognize the unique nature of food and agricultural markets or the historic role of commodity programs to address agriculture's market-based problems.

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT's Agricultural Policy Analysis Center. Contact him by telephone at 865 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; or e-mail: Daryll Ray's column is written with the research and assistance of Harwood D. Schaffer, Research Associate with APAC, whose Web address is

Celery pithiness blamed on faulty drip irrigation

Some have linked nitrogen imbalance with quality-robbing pithiness in drip-irrigated celery, but Tim Hartz, Extension vegetable crops specialist at the University of California, Davis, says the true reason is water stress, either too little or too much.

Speaking to a group of celery growers at Salinas recently, Hartz described his trials with drip irrigation and nitrogen fertility in nine commercial celery fields in Santa Maria and Salinas.

Drip irrigation is being used on about one-third of the California acreage (6,800 acres, 2003 fall season) and is increasing as methods and practices are refined.

Hartz said he found instances where certain growers were using portable drip systems that were poorly designed and operated.

Using drip tapes of various flow rates on various row lengths, those growers were attempting to irrigate different soil textures on the basis of frequency of irrigations rather than the actual volume delivered to the crop. Pithiness of up to 20 percent occurred with these faulty systems.

Pithiness, or a breakdown of internal tissue density, is a major source of quality loss and is particularly important for export markets.

In addition to water stress, the condition can be caused by cold stress, root infection, or other pre-harvest conditions. Storage at 32 degrees after harvest is particularly vital in delaying pithiness.

Approximately 85 percent to 90 percent water distribution uniformity, Hartz explained, is realistic from a portable surface drip system, and when distribution uniformity is below that range, significant over-irrigation will be needed to supply the driest part of a field.

Same bad effect

When plant roots are left in standing water from excessive irrigation, the physiological effect is the same as insufficient moisture.

“Regardless of whether you over-water or under-water, you still have the threat of serious pith development,” he said.

“Drip irrigation,” said Hartz, “is most efficiently managed by using a combination of two systems: water budget calculation and soil moisture measurement.”

Water budget calculation is estimating the amount of water the crop requires based on crop growth stage and weather conditions. Soil moisture measurement is monitoring the depletion of available water in the crop root zone.

In general, for determining irrigation frequency, Hartz said maximizing growth rate and quality of celery requires that no more than 20 to 30 percent of available water in the primary root zone, or the top foot of soil, be depleted between irrigations. Since drip irrigation does not wet the entire soil volume, it must be applied more frequently than sprinkler irrigation.

For soil moisture monitoring, he pointed to use of tensiometers as one of the best methods. Installed in the plant row 10 to 12 inches deep in several different parts of a field, tensiometers measure soil-water tension in centibars, which increase as available soil water is depleted.

Celery, he added, is most sensitive to water stress during the final four to five weeks before harvest and particularly during high evapotranspiration conditions. “Celery maturing from late fall through early spring seldom develops significant levels of pithiness, even if some degree of transient water stress is encountered.”

Heavily fertilized

Celery has traditionally been the most heavily fertilized vegetable crop grown in California. Under sprinkler irrigation, applications of 300 to 350 pounds per acre of nitrogen have been common and some growers have applied more than 400 pounds per acre.

Hartz said those rates account for not only the high nitrogen use of the crop, typically 200 to 280 pounds per acre, but also the leaching of a significant amount of the applied nitrogen below the reach of celery roots.

“If you limit the amount of in-season leaching with well-managed drip irrigation nitrogen, fertility rates can be reduced correspondingly.”

For a crop maturing in summer, he said, drip irrigation is used for the final nine weeks before harvest. Up to the point where the drip system is started, the total crop nitrogen content averages only about 20 to 30 pounds per acre. Afterward, as the crop growth rate increases, the nitrogen uptake peaks at about 35 pounds per acre per week just before harvest.

The current grower practice, he continued, is to top-dress 80 to 120 pounds per acre of nitrogen under the drip tape just before the system is installed, the theory being that the drip irrigation will carry the nitrogen to the root zone.

“However, it will be several weeks before the crop can utilize this amount of nitrogen, and any leaching in those first few weeks of drip irrigation can flush much of this fertilizer below the root zone.”

Efficient approach

A more efficient approach, Hartz suggested, would be to either eliminate the top-dressing, or apply only 20 to 50 pounds per acre and concentrate on applying more by fertigation later in the season when the crop is better able to utilize it.

Detailed guidelines for the above procedures and other calculations for drip irrigation and fertigation management of celery are available from the UC, Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center at

Getting rice to Iraq called top priority

U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., says that Coalition Provisional Authority contracts for food should be purchased from coalition partners, a policy consistent with CPA policy for reconstruction projects in other sectors in helping to rebuild postwar Iraq.

Speaking before rice millers and producers at the USA Rice Federation Government Affairs Conference, Breaux said the U.S. government should be actively fighting to help U.S. rice get back into the Iraqi market. “When contracts for food are awarded, those countries that helped in the effort to free Iraq should be the first to provide that aid,” he said.

The USA Rice Federation recently named getting U.S. rice in food aid for the Iraqi people the top priority for 2004. Doing so would mean regaining the U.S. rice industry's former top market. During the 1980s, U.S. rice sales to Iraq averaged 345,000 metric tons annually, with sales exceeding 500,000 metric tons in peak years. The U.S. rice industry lost the market in 1991 as a result of trade sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

In recent years, Iraq's annual rice imports from other world suppliers have averaged a million metric tons.

Breaux's comments underscored USA Rice's effort, realizing the potential of the Iraqi market.

“Iraq is an oil-rich nation that likes American rice,” said Breaux. “We need to get the Bush administration involved in our efforts so that when Iraqis have their own money to spend, they will be free to spend it on U.S. rice.”

Napa County VMB traced to new stock

Following an extensive detection effort in Napa County in 2003, vine mealybug (VMB) has been confirmed in 20 Napa County vineyards.

All infestations appear to be due to planting infested grapevine nursery stock from 1998 through 2003. The infested sites are located throughout Napa County (Carneros to Calistoga, valley floor and mountain vineyards), which is not surprising given that infested nursery stock was the source of the insects.

First found in California in the Coachella Valley in the early 1990s, VMB spread northward (presumably on infested equipment or fruit bins) and was found in the San Joaquin Valley in 1998. At some point, it apparently was introduced into some of the commercial grapevine propagation stream, and was widely spread on infested nursery plants.

In 2002, VMB was discovered in several northern California counties and most of these new finds were associated with new plantings. Spread on nursery stock has raised concerns that the insect could now be widely distributed throughout California and that we are currently seeing only a fraction of the infested vineyards.

To date, 16 counties have confirmed VMB infestations. They are Alameda, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Madera, Monterey, Napa, Riverside, Sacramento, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Stanislaus and Yolo.

Complete crop loss

Vine mealybug infestations can result in complete crop loss if allowed to develop without insecticide applications. Control programs are costly and require considerable effort and worker training. During the early stages of an infestation, vine mealybug is difficult to detect. Detection programs rely on the use of pheromone traps to catch the winged males, followed by visual inspection of vineyards to determine where the female infestations exist.

Fifteen infestations were found in 2003 in Napa, on the heels of five finds in 2002.

The large number of finds in Napa County resulted from a coordinated trapping and detection effort spearheaded by the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner's office. This effort was possible with funding provided by the Napa County Board of Supervisors and the local wine grape industry.

No state funding is available to directly support county VMB trapping programs, so detection efforts vary widely from county to county. Some counties have done little or no trapping. While it seems that Napa County may have more than its share of infested vineyards, it is more likely the case that we have simply been looking harder than other counties.

Pheromone traps attract male vine mealybugs, sometimes from over half a mile away. The winged males are tiny and require microscopic examination to properly identify them. In several parts of Napa County, a native ryegrass mealybug is present and males of this species are also attracted to the VMB pheromone. These male mealybugs are similar in appearance to VMB males, which make expert examination of the traps even more critical.

Moved by contact

Only male mealybugs can fly. Females do not have wings and move only by crawling. On their own, infestations would increase in size quite slowly, being limited by the walking range of females. However, females are easily spread throughout vineyards and between vineyards because of the sticky honeydew they secrete. Females will stick to people, equipment and plant material (including fruit), and can then be moved over large distances.

Even birds have been implicated in spread of VMB when feeding on infested ripe fruit close to harvest. These secondary methods of spread account for VMB's rapid spread throughout the state.

It is likely that there are additional VMB sites in Napa County that we have not yet found. Males have been trapped in three areas that are distant from any of the known infestations. Given the limited range over which the traps are effective, it seems likely that these, and possibly even more sites, will eventually be found. In counties with only limited detection efforts, it seems certain that many infestations will turn up once they are large enough to be found by field crews.

All infested sites in Napa County are being aggressively treated with insecticides in an attempt to eradicate vine mealybug. Treatments include Admire, the systemic form of imidacloprid, and the contact insecticide Lorsban. Recent changes were made to the Lorsban label to allow for both fall and late winter applications to control VMB.

Eradication realistic?

One of the vineyards where VMB was discovered in 2002 may have successfully eradicated the infestation. All other sites still have active populations. While eradication is the goal at all of the infested sites, it remains to be seen whether this is a realistic expectation. Vine mealybug may now be with us for the foreseeable future, requiring aggressive treatments each year in order to keep populations at tolerable levels and to limit the potential for further spread.

The movement of fruit and the winery waste generated from infested vineyards are areas of concern for additional spread. Stems from clusters infested with VMB will likely still harbor live insects after passing through a winery crusher-stemmer. If directly spread back into a vineyard, infested stems could lead to new vineyard infestations.

County ag commissioner staff has closely monitored movement of harvested fruit from VMB sites in Napa County in order to minimize the risks associated with infested stems. Stems were composted, solarized or returned to the vineyard of origin. Since VMB is now distributed throughout the state, introductions of VMB on fruit originating from other counties is a significant issue.

Wineries should be aware of the status of incoming loads of fruit and deal with the stems appropriately.

Hawaii winning old fruit fly battle

Agricultural Research Service scientists in Hawaii are leading the first successful effort to deal with the exotic fruit flies that have devastated Hawaiian farms and gardens for a century.

The program is not only controlling fruit flies and improving Hawaiian agriculture, but also may help keep foreign fruit flies out of the United States. If exotic fruit flies became established in California, the direct and indirect losses could amount to $1.4 billion annually in that state alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Hawaii Area-Wide Fruit Fly Integrated Pest Management Program (HAW-FLYPM, is under the direction of ARS entomologist Roger Vargas at the agency's U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii. The program, a joint effort of ARS, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii, depends primarily on a system of field sanitation, biological controls and lures, rather than chemical insecticides.

Growers on three Hawaiian islands have already been recruited as cooperators, and more are joining every growing season. Aloun Farms, one of the largest and most diversified farms in Oahu, has already been able to reduce its insecticide use by 60-70 percent. By enabling farmers to cut back on insecticide spraying, the program benefits the Hawaiian environment.

Allows more crops

Fruit fly control is also allowing farmers to grow more types of crops.

Because of fruit fly problems, Earl Yamamoto of B.E.S.T. Farm in Waimea had been limited to growing peppers and melon crops. Now he's experimenting with blueberries and has added zucchini and persimmons.

Persimmons are a popular fruit crop in Hawaii, but many orchards were abandoned as fruit fly problems worsened. Now, persimmon trees are being planted again, and harvests are increasing.

Read more about this research in the February issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at:

Timing final wheat irrigation can be tricky

Timing the last wheat irrigation may be a difficult decision. Applying an additional irrigation at the end of the season can waste water and cause unnecessary lodging. However, water stress at the end of the season may reduce quality and production.

Various conditions affect how growers will determine when to put on that last irrigation. Considerations include the growth stage of the crop, soil type, anticipated weather conditions, variety, and water availability (a 3-day carryover can make a difference under warm or hot conditions).

On the average, about 3-4 inches of water is needed to carry a crop from soft dough to maturity. A sandy loam soil will hold about 1.4 inches of water per foot. A root system of 2.5 feet would have enough soil water, assuming average weather conditions.

A heavy silty clay soil can hold 2.3 inches of water per foot and should more than adequately carry the crop to maturity with the last irrigation at soft dough. In no case should irrigation water be applied once the stems beneath the heads start to turn tan or brown.

Reduced irrigation interval data from wheat trials conducted at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Imperial Valley during the 2002-03 growing season indicated an average of 0.5 ton reduction in wheat yield with 25 percent less water use (6 inches less water for the season).

Depletion levels

Wheat is generally irrigated when 50 percent of the available soil water is depleted. Irrigation data from a study conducted at the Maricopa Agricultural Center in Central Arizona showed an 837-pound increase in production by irrigating at 35 percent depletion rather than 50 percent depletion.

Irrigating at 35 percent depletions will definitely use more water. The economics of such a decision may not be beneficial depending on cost vs. revenue.

Irrigating at depletion levels below 50 increases crop water use due of increased evaporation.

Crop coefficients and CIMIS data can be used to predict water use on wheat.

California rice acres gain may help lead rebound year

There is an optimistic tone among most California farmers this year. Prices are good for many crops. Many producers are looking at 2004 as a rebound year.

California rice is a crop that has Sacramento Valley producers smiling once again. Rice acreage could be up 15 percent this spring with recent prices 8.50 per hundredweight over government loan.

Ground fallowed last year for water sales to Southern California will be back into production. Water supplies look like they could be the best in recent years with a heavy mountain snow pack. Strong rice prices may take acreage away from processing tomatoes and possible even some of the small cotton acreage in northern California. Land where prune orchards have been taken out may go into rice.

This season is shaping up to be the best since the PIK year of 1983.

Now the challenge will be to take full advantage of strong prices by delivering a high yielding, high quality California rice crop to the dryers.

Weed management will be a key to delivering a quality crop. Keeping unwanted vegetation out of rice fields consumes increasingly more time of farmers. It is now No. 1 management issue for farmers issue because of growing weed resistance to herbicides.

Watergrass, sedge and broadleaf weed resistance has been document to virtually every herbicide available in some — certainly not all — locations. There is only one herbicide where resistance has not been found, propanil. University of California weed scientists says it may be only a matter of time for that one since resistance has been documented elsewhere in the U.S. and the world.

Steve Bickley, manager of the diversified R. Gorrill Ranch Enterprises, Durham, Calif., counts himself fortunate that he has not had to face serious weed resistance problems in the 3,000 acres of rice he farms each year. He wants to make sure it stays that way. He also farms almonds, walnuts and prunes.

Grass or resistance?

“Certainly we are aware of cases where watergrass control in rice was not as we would like it. The question always is is it just late watergrass or resistance? We collect samples where there may be resistance and send them off a lab for analysis. We sent one sample off from last year and are awaiting results,” he said.

Bickley understands that the key to avoiding resistance is to rotate herbicide chemistry.

There are about 20 different rice fields on the Gorrill farm each year. “We have hot had any troublesome fields and so far we have been able to use the same weed program pretty well ranch-wide, but we will not go more than two or three years with the same program,” he said.

“We have been using a combination of Bolero and Regiment for the past couple of years, and it has worked well for us,” said Bickley.

He consults with his pest control adviser, Dave Seeman of Butte County Rice Growers Association in Richvale, Calif. each year to map out a strategy.

Rice weed control is a usually a double barrel approach, said Seeman. It begins shortly after seeding with primarily a grass herbicide and then producers come back four to six weeks later with different herbicide to pick up broadleaves and any missed grasses.

“Most growers have a plan set up that they will follow each year, with an eye toward resistance management. We really have not seen resistance in this area of the valley. We want to keep it that way,” said Seeman.


University of California weed scientists recommend sequential herbicide programs to delay resistance. PCAs called it a double team approach like Bickley's Bolero/Regiment or Abolish and Regiment, Cerrano and Propanil or Grandstand and Regiment. There is also Clincher, Shark, Londax and an old standby, Ordram. However, Seeman said the Ordram is being phased out.

While having so many products to select from can be a plus in staving off resistance, it ups weed management challenges.

“Some of these new products are very selective — like they work only on grasses. You need to be aware of that,” said Bickley.

“You use a highly selective product early and all sudden you seem to be overrun by broadleaf weeds in the second application,” said Bickley. “You think ‘oh my God what is going on,’ but then you realize that when you use Bolero early it has activity in that first application on broadleaves and the new selective grass herbicides may not.”

With the increasing number of options come the challenges of water management. Each product may need different water management.

“I tell Steve what is going on as far as the products he and I decide to use, but I work more closely with his irrigation foreman. He is the guy who you have to work with in getting water off and on a field depending on the water management on the label,” he said. “You cannot expect irrigators to turn water off and on a 200-acre field like a spigot.”

“The last five years water management has taken on much greater significance with these new products,” Bickley said.

“Bolero is a 28-day water hold and Regiment is a contact. Water has to go up and down and you get some fields drier than others,” Seeman.

Bickley relies on aircraft for the first application and uses the farm's ground rig for the second treatment.

Issue minimized

California rice weed control at one point was a controversial issue when herbicides were found in northern California rivers. Bickley and Seeman said the issue has all but gone away because rice growers have been proactive in addressing it.

“The rice commission and other industry leaders did not dig in their heels when the controversy surfaced. They said let's find solutions, and I think we have,” said Bickley. “Growers are willing to comply with regulations and select products that will not cause problems.

“I think all of us recognized that if we did not find solutions, we were going to lose some of the products we had,” said Bickley.

Rice burning is another issue that has all but disappeared from the industry's radar screen. A producer is now allowed to burn only 25 percent of his acreage.

“We sign up for the full 25 percent every year, but that does not mean we burn that much acreage,” said Bickley, who uses burning not for disease control, but to remove trash in fields requiring re-leveling or in some cases to get rid of a troublesome weedy area.

Incorporating stubble and winter flooding has replaced burning and the benefits have been significant. Bickley said organic matter in the soil has improved with straw incorporation.

Probably the biggest benefactor has been water fowl and indirectly rice growers. The industry has been cited for its efforts to increase winter habitat by flooding fields.

“Sure, it costs us money to put water back on the fields, we have come to realize it is worth it,” he said.

“When I was a kid there would be problems with botulism in ducks because they would be so concentrated in fewer flooded areas than are now available thanks to rice field flooding. We do not see that problem much any more,” said Bickley.

“The game and fish people love the waterfowl program, but the duck hunters don't like it. They have to work harder,” laughed Seeman.

That OK with Seeman and Bickley because rice growers are working harder at being good stewards of the land and products they need to produce rice.


Sleuthing by UC stems the spread of mealybug

Careful detective work by a team of University of California Cooperative Extension scientists allows California grape farmers to rest assured newly planted grapevines are free of vine mealybug.

Vine mealybug was first identified in California in 1994. It has since spread to scattered vineyards throughout California's wine-, table- and raisin-grape-growing regions. As the vine mealybug feeds on vines and grape stems, it reduces grapevine vitality, transmits grape viruses and produces tremendous amounts of sticky honeydew, promoting sooty mold that renders the grapes inedible.

Once a vineyard is infested, vine mealybug can only be controlled with insecticides.

“If this insect becomes widespread, insecticide use in vineyards will increase, and that disrupts biological control programs being implemented for other pests in California's vineyards,” said Walt Bentley, UC Integrated Pest Management advisor, based at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center near Parlier. “With many grape farmers already struggling financially, being forced to use a costly insecticide could put them out of business.”

Because of this serious threat, the UC Integrated Pest Management Program supplied a $15,000 grant and assembled a team to develop new methods to detect and manage the vine mealybug. The team, coordinated by Bentley, includes Kent Daane, Cooperative Extension entomologist; Lucia Varela and Jim Stapleton, UC IPM advisors; David Haviland, Kern County IPM advisor; and farm advisors Rhonda Smith of Sonoma County, Jennifer Hashim of Kern County and Stephen Vasquez of Fresno County.

Age as indication

The scientists' first clue to understanding the pest's rapid spread, Bentley said, was the relative young age of infested vineyards.

“Normally, with a pest like vine mealybug, which doesn't move much, infestation is associated with older plantings. But we were finding it on younger plantings, which told us it wasn't being moved as you would normally expect,” Bentley said.

The team visited infested vineyards and questioned grape growers. They learned infestations were most common on vines planted within the last four to five years. That finding led them to nurseries that supply cuttings to grape farmers. The nurseries, recognizing their role in vine mealybug control, were interested in a treatment for vine mealybug that would not expose their fieldworkers to toxic chemicals.

Using a method that has been successful in controlling other pests, Bentley and his colleagues conducted experiments with vine mealybug-infested grape cuttings. They found that immersing grape cuttings in 125-degree water for five minutes kills 99.99 percent of all life stages of vine mealybug without damaging the vines.

In less than 12 months, UC scientists solved the mystery and validated a treatment protocol for grapevine nurseries. Nursery staff now treat their planting stock by immersing materials for five minutes each into each of three tanks: a warming tank, a treatment tank of water above 125 degrees and then a cooling tank. Four providers of dormant grape nursery stock have already begun implementing this technique to ensure their planting material is free of vine mealybug.

Water treatment

The scientists are now actively taking the new information out to the field and conducting other programs to limit the spread of vine mealybug. They suggest farmers be sure the nurseries where they buy new grape cuttings are using the hot-water treatment. In addition, farmers should take great care to avoid movement of the pest in equipment and workers' clothing from infested vineyards into clean vineyards, especially during harvest, which offers the greatest opportunities for spread of the pest.

Bentley recommends that farmers carefully monitor vineyards and call the local UC Cooperative Extension office or the agricultural commissioner's office immediately for confirmation of a suspected vine mealybug infestation.

State wine industry series of disheartening cycles

The Unified Wine and Grape Symposium attracted 9,000 people to Sacramento in January. It has become the largest gathering of vintners and growers in America.

California Association Winegrape Growers (CAWG) and the American Society of Enology and Viticulture are to be commended for efforts to unify growers and vintners in one place to address issues and come up with solutions for the common good of the California industry.

However, will it or anything else ever unify California growers and vintners? From what we heard from growers in Sacramento, a chasm continues to separate the two segments.

What was buzz with growers at the symposium? Disputed winery contracts, unfair delivery schedules and the newest wineries ploy, “more hang time.” That means growers were asked to leave grapes on the vines longer last season to seemingly improve quality, which also just happens to reduce tonnage and the amount wineries must pay for grapes. Ironically, vintners are having trouble fermenting grapes held longer than in the past. This spawned another new phrase; ”humidifying wine grapes.” Translation: add water to ferment grapes.

The games never stop, and it is sad. It has been that way for the almost 30 years since we began reporting on California's wine grape industry.

Respected bulk wine broker Bill Turrentine displayed a roller coaster chart of wine grape prices covering a 30-year span to 2002: A model for basic strategic planning. When prices are high, don't overplant. When prices are low, prepare for an up cycle. Anyone following that simple model would have a clear competitive advantage, said Turrentine.

However, it never happens. What occurs is wine grape prices reach a level where a vineyard is profitable; banks loan millions to plant new vineyards and when those vines come into full production, there are more grapes than the market needs, and prices tank. Vineyards are taken over by banks or bulldozed out, and the cycle starts over again from the bottom. It about a five-year cycle that is as predictable as the sun coming up tomorrow morning.

The California wine industry is the jewel of California agriculture. Drinking California wine is a marvelous adventure. I am one of the industry's biggest fans. People often ask me “which wines are best.” To that I respond: “Drink no wine until it's in a bottle.” Call me an irreverent redneck who doesn't know Lone Star from Cabernet Sauvignon, but I know from my own experience many, many people right here in California and elsewhere continue to be befuddled by California wines — varietal names, winery names and appellations.

Don't believe that? Look what the Australians have done. They came to Unified several years ago and proclaimed that as a united grower/vintner industry in that country they would soon bring inexpensive, good wines into California and America and take market share. No one believed them. Know what? They have done exactly that with wines with names like Yellow Tail and other catchy labels. Imports — not just Australian, but Chilean, Argentine, South African and European — now command a quarter of wine sales in America because they have made wine fun. Australian wines are growing at twice the rate of California wines in the U.S.

Now what? The glut is now only a lake. Grape prices will start climbing again and the cycle begins anew.

There always will be business cycles and challenges. However, the disunity of the California's wine industry make those cycles so disheartening for growers and vintners alike.

The solution is simple; unite in a concerted effort to increase and sustain California wine consumption. Quit being adversaries.


Topwork bull Chandler walnuts when trees young

As increasingly more young Chandler walnut blocks come into production, we have been noticing more off type or “bulls”. These are trees that will periodically have light or virtually no crop. This past growing season seems to be a year when symptom expression was particularly severe.

The bearing pattern of these trees is erratic with on and off years occurring at unpredictable intervals. These trees will often be larger than non-bull trees presumably because of greater nutrients available for vegetative growth due to lighter cropping.

The cause of this problem is unknown. We do know that it is not a virus and that it is spread by graft wood, using wood from affected trees for propagation.

Over the life of the orchard, the production of these trees will be less than that of non-affected trees. The sooner these trees are discovered and something is done, the better. Usually these trees will not be noticed until the orchard begins to bear a significant crop. It has been observed this year in some 5th leaf orchards.

Time to topwork

Trees from the 5th to 9th year would be good candidates for topworking with wood from Chandler trees which are known to be free of the problem.

Topworking would probably be preferable to removing trees and replanting due to poor growth often associated with replants. With older trees the benefit of doing something will be lessened because there will be less time in the life of the orchard to recoup costs.

Additionally, topworking older trees will be more difficult and expensive and replant problems can be worse.