Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott Feb. 14, 2016 publication
Wow, can you believe this weather! It is wonderful people weather, but not always so good for agriculture. The first crop of produce is long out of the fields and the second well on its way. With warm weather, the crops begin to grow more quickly and mature more rapidly than the growers may have planned. Talking with folks, the prices have been strong for the front end of the season. Much of the success of the next couple of months will depend on the weather on the east coast and other high volume markets. If there are major winter storms or frigid weather, people in those markets are looking for soup and chili rather than salads and veggie trays. Transportation of harvested crops is also a problem when highways are shut down and normal day to day business slows down.
Around Yuma, the rotation crops of wheat and melons are being planted. Crop varieties have been specially developed to our cropping windows, and more melons are being transplanted than direct seeded. Many of the farmers are using their portable sprinkler systems to water up their wheat crops. The soil a foot below the soil surface is already full of water and nutrients that moved down during the growing of the vegetables, so deep watering is not needed at this time. The use of sprinklers, particularly with the 80 degree weather we are having assure a rapid germination of the wheat. Sometimes it grows so fast you can almost watch it grow! Once the wheat is well germinated, the sprinklers are removed and the fields are flood irrigated.
One of the reasons our irrigation systems and water applications are so efficient is that our fields are pool table flat. The only place for the water to go is down. No tailwater, (water leaving the field), reduces the spread of diseases, contaminants, salts and weeds from field to field. It is so important to food safety that everything that goes on or into the field is free of contaminants. The on-farm efficiency of our irrigation application exceeds 75 percent. Taking into account evaporation (10 feet per year in Yuma); leaching water 10 to 15 percent of the applied water and any losses in the ditches delivering the water, our surface irrigations are some of the most efficient in the world. While sprinklers and drip systems have their place in some short season crops, they cannot compete with the flood systems for efficiency. In addition, with the evaporation and salt content of our irrigation water, the small amounts of water that effectively gets into the soil cannot provide the leaching needed, often reducing quality and the yield of the crop.
In addition to wheat, Sudan grass, a forage crop grown mostly for hay will be planted. In the past much of the Sudan grass has been exported to countries that do not have the available land for forage crops. It is also used by confined feeding operations and some dairies.
Cotton will start to be planted when the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees. Short staple cotton prices have not been good so the acreage is expected to be down. There is always Pima or long staple cotton grown in Yuma as well.
Leaving fields empty and not irrigated for long periods of time (fallowing) is not a successful practice in Yuma agriculture. Not irrigating and growing deep rooted crops allow the salts deep in the soil to work their way to root zone used by vegetable crops. Most vegetables are somewhat salt sensitive, fallowing causes more cost in irrigation, labor, chemicals and time to overcome the effects. Since there is less than one-half percent organic matter in our desert soils, any roots or crop residues that can be added throughout the year is a plus. The residues help to maintain the soil structure, improving water and air movement and reducing compaction.
Our agricultural industry in Yuma is always worth watching-you never know what you will see.