Interesting farm call this morning. A strawberry grower near Watsonville reported a large group of worms (caterpillars) migrating north out of the mixed cover crop including barley and mustard.
These worms were identified by our new UCCE entomologist Alejandro del Pozo as being a species of armyworm, for which this sort of behavior is not unusual. One distinct characteristic to ID these worms is the ‘Y' shaped suture on their forehead. For instance, the beet armyworm,Spodoptera exigua, could be a problem in strawberries when high infestations are left unmanaged. You could read more about the beet armyworm as pest of strawberries on the UCIPM guidelines at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r734300611.html
Knowing that these creatures do feed on strawberries, the advice to the grower is to mow and disk the cover crop to destroy the majority of these worms. Yes, the grower is forfeiting some of the benefit of the cover crop he expected to keep going until the end of August, but the risk to his strawberry crop of this large population of armyworms is greater.
UC Cooperative Extension is hosting a Perishable Commodities Act meeting at its office on 1430 Freedom Blvd, Ste E in Watsonville on August 2.
See flyer posted below for details.
PACA Meeting poster
I don't write too much about it in this space because it tends more in the area of "shop talk" for us in extension, but a great interest of mine is how one successfully executes a program of extension.
One of the temptations for the new extensionist is to jump in with both feet first, hit the ground running and get some change underway immediately. In our world of berries, there are so many things that need to be done, from getting away from chemical fumigation, reducing pesticide use, improving labor efficiency, managing invasive pests and the implementation of technology.
The problem is, as many eager people find out to their chagrin, that there are many, many interested parties involved in all of these things, and might not take so kindly to pushes for abrupt change.
To get my point across, I'll refer to the economic reformation of China that become the dictum under Premiere Deng Xiaopeng in the late seventies. Called "Crossing the River While Feeling the Rocks" it is change brought about in a piecemeal manner. Rather than forcing giant leaps forward, it rather worked towards change in a cautious way, first testing policies on a small scale, ramping up the successes and discarding the rest.
This piecemeal approach reduces risk and disarms opponents. Initial successes encourage others to back the changes, and one change leads to the next in an evolutionary manner. In such a way, rather than an approach using giant steps, the damage of such a small step orientation to the social fabric of the community to which one has been assigned is minimized.
A cautionary tale of perhaps how not to start out is from our own industry of an organization that was setting up its own research and extension program a number of years ago. Casting aside any hint of a piecemeal approach, and certainly not feeling their way as they went along, they pressed the pedal to floor and moved hot and fast. It was clear these were people with a real agenda, with the smarts, vigor and access to deep pools of money to make it all happen.
Unfortunately, attempting to make giant steps forward without getting too many bearings of the surroundings didn't work out so great. An aggressive and well funded program emerging in the midst of a number of established campaigns is bound to make waves and this one did not disappoint. With that alone there was lots of turmoil, but what really roiled the water was the decision, either through hubris, lack of experience or something else, to trash everyone else working in the community of berry research. Which of course blew a pretty decent sized hole in the social fabric, to say the least.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, rather than disarming opposition, this program solidified it. None of the big changes intended to be brought about were supported by anyone else, collaboration evaporated and they found themselves outside of the industry research and extension mainstream. Needless to say the whole operation collapsed and is now only a shadow of what it once hoped to be.
Good to start steady and slow, and feel out the rocks.
We found them. Referring back to the previous post, as our readers know we've been looking for spotted wing drosophila pupae under fruit in raspberries, and now on the second read have confirmed that they are indeed pupating within a centimeter of the fallen fruit. In the meantime, the pupae collected on the first read have eclosed and the adults are SWD.
Pictures below. Really nice work on the part of Staff Research Associate Monise Sheehan on figuring this out.
Looking to do a bigger run of the same late this summer and then get a nice paper written about it.
Mark here. I'm including below really nice overview of the current ag labor issue in California by colleague Laura Tourte. The intensity of work and dependence of our agriculture on labor here on the Central Coast make this topic really relevant and, given the looming changes in cost and availability, pretty important to understand well.
Growers often report – and researchers generally agree – that labor shortages exist in agriculture along the Central Coast and elsewhere in California, and that labor costs are rising. The reasons are for this situation are complex and multifaceted. Here are some considerations:
- The fresh market crops that dominate agricultural production along the Central Coast are labor intensive. Weeding, pruning and training, irrigation and harvest are examples of practices that are especially labor intensive.
- Labor represents between almost 30 and 60 percent of total production and harvest costs, depending upon the crop and crop cycle. It may be even higher for some crops grown elsewhere in California.
- Labor costs are rising, in part because of changing regulations associated with minimum wage, overtime, health care, paid sick leave and non-productive time, but also because there is a shortage of agricultural labor along with an increased demand for workers.
- Increased labor and production costs can strain and negatively impact the already thin profit margins associated with some crops.
- Immigration constraints and tightened border enforcement have reduced the number of agricultural workers from Mexico—the primary source of labor—that are seeking work in the area and state. The expanding agricultural industry in Mexico has also reduced the number of workers seeking employment here.
- The agricultural labor force is aging and more settled, and have families and other connections to local communities. Because of this, experienced workers do not migrate with the crop production and harvest cycles as often as in the past.
- Most harvest and other labor intensive practices for fresh market crops have not yet been highly mechanized or automated because of important “sensory attributes”—particularly sight and touch—that humans bring to agricultural work. Some commercially available technology already exists, and public and private research efforts are underway to mechanize or automate other labor intensive practices. Mechanical aids are also being used if available, or are being developed, with the goal of improving labor efficiency.
- Some of the area's farmers now supplement their labor forces with foreign guest workers using the federal H-2A program. The program has expanded rapidly in California in recent years increasing from roughly 3,000 certified farm jobs in fiscal year 2012 to 15,000 in fiscal year 2017. However, the program's recruitment process, requirements and associated costs limit it as a viable option for some growers.
- Affordable housing for farm workers is often lacking or constrained. Efforts to address housing issues are in discussion and in progress in the area.
The full impact of labor shortages and rising labor costs is not yet known. The Race in the Fields: Imports, Machines and Migrants, a California Agriculture article by Philip Martin, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis considers whether current conditions will result in rising imported produce, mechanization, or more foreign guest workers in agriculture. It is also one of the sources of information for this blog article, along with other articles from California Agriculture. http://calag.ucanr.edu/. Cost information is from various cost and return studies, which can be found at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.