providing some advantage to the farmer. Frequently, these are new fertilizer mixes presented as proprietary cocktails promoted and dispensed with promises of a multitude of profitable (yet improbable) benefits to the buyer. With the large number of new products available, and the number of salespeople promoting them, it is often difficult for growers to distinguish between products likely to provide real benefit, and those that may actually reduce the profitability of the farm.
In all situations when a company approaches the University or a commodity research board with a new product or technology for sale to California growers, these institutions act as grower advocates. They are charged with sorting through the available information; asking the right questions; getting the necessary research done if the available information warrants this pursuit; disseminating accurate information on these new technologies and products, and doing all that can help maximize grower profits now and in the future. When approached with a new product or technology it is obligatory to challenge claims with the following questions:
Is there some basic established and accepted scientific foundation on which the product claims are made?
Language that invokes some proprietary ingredients or mysterious formulations, particularly in fertilizers mixes registered in the State of California, raises red flags. A wide range of completely unrelated product benefit claims (such as water savings, pesticide savings, increased earlier yield) raises more red flags. Product claims that fall well outside of any accepted scientific convention generally mean the product is truly a miracle, or these claims are borderline false to entirely fraudulent.
Has the product undergone thorough scientific testing in orchards?
Frequently, products are promoted based on testimonials of other growers. While testimonials may be given in good faith, they are most often not backed up by any real scientific testing where a good control was used to compare orchard returns with and without the product.
A “test” where a whole block was treated with a product and which has no reliable untreated control does not meet accepted standards for conducting agricultural experiments. Also, a treated orchard cannot reliably be compared to a neighboring untreated orchard; and a treated orchard cannot be compared to the same orchard that was untreated the previous crop year. Even a test with half a block of treated trees and half untreated is not considered dependable by any known scientific standard of testing.
Only a well designed, statistically replicated, multi-year trial allows for direct comparison of untreated versus treated trees with statistical confidence. Verifiable data from tests that meet acceptable standards of scientific design, along with access to raw baseline (before treatment) yield data from the same trees (preferably for the two years prior) should be used to determine the validity of test results provided.
Are the test results from a reliable source?
If the testing were not done by a neutral party, such as university scientists, agency, or a reputable contract research company using standard scientific protocols, this raises red flags. If the persons overseeing the tests have a financial interest in seeing positive results from the product, it raises red flags.
Does the product have beneficial effects on several unrelated farm practices?
A product that increases production of trees, makes fruit bigger, reduces pests, reduces water use, and reduces fertilizer costs, is more than a little suspicious. In reality, if such a product really existed, it would not need any testing at all because its benefits would be so obviously realized by the grower community that it would spread rapidly by word of mouth and embraced by the entire grower community.
Are other standard and proven farm products put down in the new product sales delivery?
If a new product vendor claims that their product is taken up 15 times faster than the one growers are currently using, or is 30 times more efficient, it probably costs 15 to 30 times more per unit of active ingredient than the standard market price. Growers should always examine the chemical product label to see what active ingredient they are buying. There has to be a very good reason to pay more for an ingredient where previously there had been no problem supplying the same ingredient at a cheaper price to trees in the past.
There are impartial sources of such information available to farmers to help corroborate information provided by product vendors. Perhaps the most reliable and accessible impartial research and education resources for growers are their local Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors and commodity research boards.
When promising products emerge, local university Farm Advisors can advise growers on how to evaluate these products and may help design a small trial to test a particular product on a few trees under local orchard conditions. If in these pursuits a truly promising new product or technology emerges, research board funding may follow but only on the recommendation of that board's Research Committee.
- Author: Jeanette Warnert
California avocados are the best in the world. So says downtown restaurant manager Daniel Avalos in a Valley Public Radio story by reporter Ezra David Romero.
The fact that they currently thrive only on a small swath of coastal Southern California is being challenged by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mary Lu Arpaia. She is on a mission to find avocado varieties that withstand the hot summers and cold winters of the San Joaquin Valley, where irrigation water and crop land are more abundant and cheaper.
She hopes to find avocado varieties that ripen at various times of year, and varieties that might be an alternative crop for citrus growers should huanglongbing, a disease that has devastated the Florida citrus crop, take hold in Central California.
"There's a void of California fruit on the market in the months of November, December and actually early January," Arpaia said. "So if we can find different selections that maybe are unique that fit into that window, then we help the entire California avocado industry."
Romero visited the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center to see the trees in Arpaia's study. Currently, the vast majority of California avocados are the Hass variety. The goal is to breed varieties with similar eating quality that grow to a moderate height and have high yield. One potential that is already being produced by nurseries is called "gem."
"This is gem," said Eric Focht, a staff research associate in Arpaia's lab. "You can see it's a little more oval or egg shaped than Hass. It has the speckling on the skin. Now as this ripens, it will turn dark and a lot of times the speckled lenticels with get a yellow kind of golden color it it."
Another promising variety is called "lunchbox" because of its small size. According to Focht, it "just falls out of the skin." Arpaia said, "It makes wonderful guacamole and I found, with a non-replicated test in my refrigerator, the fruit doesn't brown."
Arpaia's favorite guacamole recipe is featured at the end of the story on the KVPR website. And there is more on this story at:
Mary Lu Arpaia
'Pixie' mandarin is a very vigorous, upright tree. Although the fruit is small, hence its name, it can produce fruit on the ends of long branches which deform the canopy structure, making it hard to pick. The sweet, seedless fruit is worth picking, though. The rootstock standards for this small industry are ‘Citrumelo' and ‘C-35' citrange. The industry is looking for alternatives to these choices, especially those that reduce the vigor of the trees.
There is no one ideal rootstock at this point and growers have the option of a wide range of choices. The search includes those that are resistant to Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV), Phytophthora, calcareous soils and ideally one that is resistant to the bacteria that causes Huanglongbing.
In many California coastal growing areas, land is expensive, water scarce and costly and prone to calcareous soils that are derived from marine sediments which can bring on iron chlorosis. Growers are also looking for smaller trees that will give early economic returns, are easier to prune and pick, and may be more compatible with the economics driven by Huanglongbing.
‘Citrumelo' citrange yields a large tree with good quality and quantity of fruit. It is tolerant of CTV (Citrus tristeza virus) and Phytophthora spp, but is susceptible to iron chlorosis in high pH soils. ‘C-35' citrange is a smaller tree than Citrumelo, also has resistance to Phytophthora spp and CTV, and is more tolerant of high pH soils.
The USDA had a breeding program in California which was taken over by the University of California. Out of this breeding project, the university selected three rootstocks for release in 2009 because of their horticultural characteristics, such as dwarfing, although not as much as ‘Flying Dragon' trifoliate, resistance to CTV and tolerance of calcareous soils. These three rootstocks also show good tolerance to Phytophthora parasitica and nematodes.
Pixie growers have been looking for a more compact tree, easier to handle and not need so much pruning. They funded a long-term project to see how these newer selections of rootstock performed in their area which has a hot summer/cool winter. A 2014 planting of ‘Pixie' has been evaluating the size reducing effects of the relatively new rootstocks ‘Bitters' citrange, ‘Carpenter' citrange and ‘Furr' citrange. After two years, ‘Pixie' on ‘Citrumelo' is the largest tree. Of the new rootstocks, ‘Furr' is the largest and ‘Bitters' the smallest. The trial was replicated at two sites with two different pH soils. At one site with the highest soil pH, ‘Bitters' showed iron chlorosis.
Photo: long whip growth on 'Pixie'
At a recent Fresh Index-sponsored meeting, David Crowley recently of UC Riverside talked of a five year-long study that assessed nutritional status and yield. This has been a study area that has long been confused by the problems of alternate bearing, weather-dependency of the avocado, soil variability, root rot, etc. etc. etc. that we all know about. There are nutrient interactions that confound results, as well. High phosphorus affects micronutrient uptake of zinc, copper and others. Zinc impedes copper uptake. Loss of roots from Phytophthora especially affects micronutrients. Irrigation and aeration again affects nutrient uptake, and especially micronutrients.
The elements coming from the soil are divided into primary nutrients, secondary nutrients and micronutrients. This grouping is based on the relative amounts required by plants, but all are essential. Crowley describes the relative need for each element being based on the “Law of the Minimum”; if only one element is deficient it eventually affects growth and yield of the entire plant in a negative manner. It doesn't matter how much the other nutrients are raised, if one is limiting, growth is limited by that one. The primary nutrients required by avocados are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The secondary nutrients required are calcium, magnesium and sulfur. The micronutrients are zinc, iron, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, nickel and chlorine.
The Law applies not just to nutrients but to light, temperature, water, disease, pests – anything that affects growth. The limiting input needs to be fixed before the others can boost growth to whatever the biological maximum might be in that environment. In irrigated agriculture, water is the most common limiting input.
So, it is complex. Really complex. But with computers and different techniques of analysis and just looking at nutrients, Crowley has been able to get a better handle on what could be limiting growth in an individual grove. This applies not to what is lacking, but what might be in excess – too much chloride, too much nitrogen, too much…………….
So, in the case of all this data collection the Crowley team has done, something unusual has popped up. Copper deficiency.
Copper deficiency is not commonly recognized as a problem in California avocado groves, but occasionally a grower will report a leaf analysis showing less copper than the 5ppm recommended by Embleton (http://ucavo.ucr.edu/General/LeafAnalysis.html). Typical copper deficiency was reported by Barnard and others (http://www.avocadosource.com/Journals/SAAGA/SAAGA_1991/SAAGA_1991_PG_67-71.pdf). They reported the symptoms of copper deficiency as follows: • Dull appearance of older leaves • Prominent leaf veination • Reddish-brown leaf color • Premature defoliation and twig. This is an extreme case, and Crowley is suggesting there may be some low, chronic level that limits avocado. His final report can be found at:
Of course, why copper might be limiting is another question. Is it due to root rot? Interaction with other applied materials like phosphorus (not phosphite, phosphorous, phosphonate) fertilizers? With irrigation management? Something(s) to think about.
And citrus in California is a different beast. It can commonly show copper deficiency and be a limiting nutrient. We apply copper as a frost/brown rot/septoria spray and as a result don't often see deficiency in citrus.
Liebig's Barrel. Optimum production occurs when all the barrel staves are as high as they can be. When one element is low, that becomes the limiting factor for production. Increased production doesn't occur until that uptake is improved and then the next limiting input restricts production. When that next one is corrected, then some other input then limits production. Correction keeps improving production until the biological limit is reached.
Have any readers actually seen a wooden barrel?
There are 4,000 species of earthworms grouped into five families and distributed all over the world. Some grow uo to 3 feet long, while others are only a few tenths of inches. We call them nightcrawlers, field worms, manure worms, red worms and some people call them little diggers.
In California, we have some native species of earthworms, but in many cases non-native introduced species have come to dominate. The predominant native species belong to the Argilophilus and Diplocardia while many of the non-native are of European in origin in the Lumbricidae family. Many of these non-natives were probably introduced by settlers bringing plants from home, which had soil containing the worms. A survey of California earthworms by the US Forest Service can be found at:
This is a wonderful description of earthworm biology and their occurrence in the landscape.
When digging in citrus orchards, it is common to find earthworms in the wetted mulch under tree canopies. Many of our citrus orchards were initially established by “balled and burlap” nursery trees that brought worms along with the soil. In the case of many avocado orchards, on the other hand, it can be rare to find earthworms in orchards. Most avocado orchards have been established since the 1970s when potting mixes and plastic liners were the standard practice and worms were not part of the planting media. Even though there is a thick leaf mulch in avocado orchards, the worms have not been introduced, and it is rare to find them.
Numerous investigators have pointed out the beneficial effects of earthworms on soil properties. One of the first of these observers was Charles Darwin who published Earthworms and Vegetable Mould in 1881. He remarked on the great quantity of soil the worms can move in a year. He estimated that the earthworms in some of his pastures could form a new layer of soil 7 inches thick in thirty years, or that they brought up about 20 tons of soil per acre, enough to form a layer 0.2-inch-deep each year.
Earthworms, where they flourish, are important agents in mixing the dead surface litter with the main body of the soil. They drag the leaves and other litter down into their burrows where soil microorganisms also begin digesting the material. Some earthworms can burrow as deeply as 5 to 6 feet, but most concentrate in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
The worm subsists on organic matter such as leaves and dead roots near the soil surface. The earthworm ingests soil particles along with the organic matter and grinds up the organic matter in a gizzard just as a chicken does. This is excreted in what we call worm casts. The castings differ chemically from the rest of the soil, as they are richer in nitrogen, potassium and other mineral constituents.
Castings are a natural by-product of worms. When added to normal soils in gardens or lawns, they provide the same kinds of benefits as other bulky organic fertilizers. Castings today are not commonly used as fertilizer by commercial plant growers because of their cost relative to other fertilizers. However, castings are used by some organic growers and are sold commercially as a soil amendment or planting medium for ornamental plants grown in pots.
The physical soil churning process also has several important effects:
-Organic residues are more rapidly degraded with the release of elements such as nitrogen, sulfur and other nutrients.
-Some of the inorganic soil minerals tend to be solubilized by the digestive process.
-Extensive burrowing improves soil aeration.
-Burrowing can improve water penetration into soils
-The earthworm carries surface nutrients from the soil surface and imports them into the root zone of the plant.
Although earthworms are considered beneficial to soil productivity, few valid studies have been made to determine whether their presence will significantly improve plant growth. This may seem odd since many of us have learned from childhood that worms are good. It is something like the chicken and the egg analogy. The conditions that are conducive to earthworms are also ideal for plants. Both plants and worms need temperatures between 60 and 100 degrees F for good growth; both need water, but not too much or little; they both require oxygen for respiration; and they do not like soils that are too acid or basic or too salty. By correcting soil conditions that are unfavorable for one will also improve the outlook for the other. The earthworm is a natural component of the soil population. If the soil is properly managed this natural population will thrive. In this sense, the presence or absence or earthworms can be an indicator of the "fertility" of one's soil.