Friday, February 28, 2014

Bountiful Winter Crops

So last week (the week of the 17th) I was out to the annual research meetings of the Fluid Fertilizer Forum in Scottsdale, AZ.  I have attended that many times over the past years, and it is a good opportunity to hear the latest in university research with fluid fertilizers.  After that I went on some fertilizer missions out into the desert.  First stop was Yuma, AZ to visit a Liquid dealer there.  What turns desert into crop land?  Water of course.  And thanks to the Colorado River, many areas of desert are providing winter crops to feed the country.  And when things are growing back up North, this area of the country is trying to stay cool as it's too hot to grow anything then.  Below is a Google Earth pic of where I was.  That's Yuma in the lower right corner.  You can see irrigated farmland there.  Next I went to the Imperial Valley of California which is that green area below the Salton Sea.  But let's not get ahead.  (Google Earth is so cool, isn't it?)
 I have been to the Yuma area before as several years ago we conducted some experiments on Lemon trees with the University of Arizona at their experiment station nearby.  We had favorable results that are posted on the Research Tab of the website (in Research Results.)  That research contributed to the importance of micronutrients for tree crops and the product ferti-Rain.  This area is considered the salad bowl of the country in the winter as much of the nation's lettuce comes from here.  Below is a field of cabbage.
 Here is a harvest crew picking lettuce.  Now that's real work to do that all day every day.
 Here is the reason for all of the crops grown here.  They said since this is river water, that they aren't as threatened as the rest of California that relies on rain and snowmelt to support crops.  But it is still a very precious commodity.
 Here is a field of spinach that is just coming up and being irrigated.  This grows to maturity in 30 to 40 days now that the days are warmer.
 Here is another field.  It looks so pretty in the nice straight beds.  Now that I know how much work it takes to grow it, I try not to leave any in my salad bowl.
 And then as you can see in the Google Earth picture above, go West and you are out of the crop land and into the desert.  There is a stretch of sand dunes, that you can also see on the Earth pic.  It is popular with sand dune vehicles, and I know that Albert has ventured here to test his sand rail.  It has also been the site of many movies shot over the years.  In fact, I understand that my uncle, who was career Army, was part of a war movie that was shot here back in the years after WW2.  He was one of the many soldiers that you see in such movies going across the dunes in battle.  (Although I never did learn what it was.  Hmm..)
Then about an hour up to the Imperial Valley.  I had never been there before, but had always heard of it.  Like the Yuma area, it is an important area for winter crops.  It has over 500,000 acres of cropland, which was started in 1901 when the Colorado River was diverted through a series of canals and water channels.  So that made it possible to grow crops in an area that receives less than 3 inches of annual rainfall.  Well wouldn't you know, but in 1905 there was flooding which overran the irrigation channels and all that water ran into an area that became the Salton Sea.  I understand that it used to be used for recreation, but now it is salty and there is some agricultural runoff that had gotten into it in the past.  So environmental stewardship, especially in a place like California, is of concern.  Anyway, today the irrigation river water is distributed more responsibly and everyone is happy.  Top crops are alfalfa/grass hay (and large dairy and beef operations), spinach, carrots, onions, wheat, lettuce....and, believe it or not, there are around 25,000 acres of sugarbeets.  When I learned of this last fall, I was surprised.  But they have been growing beets in the Imperial Valley since 1932.  And as it turned out, we were able to participate in some field plots with planter applications of Pro-Germinator, Sure-K and Micro 500. Below are some of the plots with Liquid fertilizer.  They have them at two locations.  These were planted in late October and will be harvested in the summer.
Harvest is one of the interesting things with these Imperial Valley beets.  In the North where most of the sugarbeets are grown (like North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Michigan), they are havested in the late fall and then hauled to piling locations, where they are piled up in huge piles.  (Interesting how "pile" can be both a noun and a verb).  Then they are trucked to the mill and re-piled then run through the mill in fall and winter producing sugar.  But they can't do that here with harvest starting in May.  It is so hot by then that they would just rot away.  So they schedule harvests such that only what can be processed is brought to the mill.  So they sit there in the ground until it is their turn to be dug and hauled to the mill. That could be as late as August when it is over 115 degrees!  So it is a challenge.  I am happy to visit the plots now when it is in the low 80's, but I'll ask for pictures at harvest.

Another thing I learned is that there is a weed there called wild sugarbeet.  It is an annual weed that is genetically close enough to sugarbeets that they could cross pollinate.  Now sugarbeets grown here generally do not produce seed.  Sugarbeets are a biennial crop that requires vernalization or a cold period or dormancy in order to reproduce and make a seed.  Kind of like winter wheat.  In fact, sugarbeet seed comes from the Pacific Northwest after a complicated process of transplanting and pollination after dormancy in mild winter (vernalization).  But there is a small chance here for a rogue beet plant to "bolt" or become reproductive.  Well almost all sugarbeets are now glyphosate (Roundup) resistant, and there is fear of a Roundup resistant cross into a weed sugarbeet, which would lead to Roundup resistant wild sugarbeets.  That wouldn't be good.  So as soon as Wild Sugarbeets are seen in a field, they are forcibly removed.  That is a wild sugarbeet in the picture below.  I saw to it that it would not become a reproductive threat.
Below is the sugar mill in Brawley, CA.  Look at the silo. It has a line that says "sea level".  The Imperial Valley is some 235 feet below sea level!
So after an exciting day in the beet fields and seeing and learning about all things Imperial, I headed West back through the desert.   
Amazing going from "with water" to "without water".