The 2020 UCCE Delta field corn variety trial, located on Tyler Island, was planted on April 21st by air planter and consisted of three replicate blocks of seventeen varieties. The seventeen varieties included fourteen varieties submitted by seed companies and three submitted by the grower. All varieties were glyphosate tolerant. Over the course of the season, we evaluated stand count, bloom, disease incidence (Fusarium ear rot, head smut, common smut; Fig. 1), lodging, and yield. The field was harvested on September 25th.
Table 1 presents mean values for the three replicates. The statistical method used to compare the means is called the Tukey's range test. Varieties were considered statistically different if their P value was less than 0.05, or 5 percent. Twelve varieties have a letter “a” following their mean yield, which means that those twelve varieties all yielded similarly in the trial.
In addition to yield, there were also statistical differences among varieties in Fusarium ear rot, head smut, common smut, ear height, grain moisture, and bushelweight. The CV, or coefficient of variation, is the standard deviation divided by the mean, or a measure of variability in relation to the mean. For the diseases, the variability among the three replicates was very high.
For a printable report with more description of the trial, please visit my website. Special thanks go to the cooperating growers, Gary and Steve Mello, and the participating seed companies.
Figure 1. Diseases monitored in the UCCE Delta field corn variety trial: A) Fusarium ear rot, B) head smut, and C) common smut. These three diseases are generally managed by variety selection.
Table 1. 2020 UCCE Delta field corn variety trial results. Results for each variety are expressed as the average across three replications.
* Data were transformed for analysis. Arithmetic means are presented.
‡ Yield adjusted to 15% moisture.
As the Covid-19 pandemic persists, and as government and University recommendations maintain that we should limit social gatherings, I have come to the conclusion NOT to hold the annual Delta field meeting at the corn variety trial this year. The trial will be harvested in the next few weeks, and I anticipate having results ready and available on this blog by early November. It is regrettable not to be able to host the meeting this year because I know that seeing a trial can have a lot of meaning and impact. Let's hope that next year brings better circumstances. Thanks for your understanding, and please don't hesitate to reach out with questions.
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Date: September 23, 2020
Time: 8:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: Zoom Meeting
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Registration fee: $9.23
What: UC Cooperative Extension will provide updates on applied research in alfalfa variety, irrigation, and pest management; sorghum and its use in dairy feeding; sugar beets and safflower as winter forages; and personal protective equipment in a time of Covid-19.
Who should attend: California alfalfa and forage growers, consultants and allied industry.
Continuing education units: Applied for California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), Certified Crop Adviser (CCA), and Nitrogen Management credits
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Last week, I visited a baby lima field in the southwest part of San Joaquin County that had overall poor pod set. Pods were filling lower in the canopy, but flowers had not set higher on the plants. The field, which was planted in late-June/early-July had an excellent stand, and ostensibly, good fertility and moisture status (Figure 1). There were two possible reasons for the poor pod set that immediately came to mind: 1) lygus damage and 2) heat stress.
I checked data from the CIMIS stations nearest to this field, which are the Brentwood and Manteca stations. Between May 1st and August 31st, the Brentwood station recorded 16 days with a temperature over 100°F, and the Manteca station recorded 9 days over 100°F. Most notably, the heatwave in mid-August struck at perfectly wrong timing. This field was about 50 days after planting, which is generally the prime time for bean flowering. The heatwave brought daytime temperatures over 105°F and nighttime temperatures that barely, if at all, dropped below 70°F. In fact, it is the high nighttime temperatures that will impair pod development by hindering pollen movement and rendering it sterile. This is not just the case for limas; it can happen with other dry beans, as shown by Rachael Long in this blog post from a couple weeks ago. Had the heatwave occurred earlier in the summer, it could have caused a split set, which is not desirable. The mid-August timing, however, means that day length is now too short for further pod development, and yield will likely be lower than expected.
Naturally, one should ask what would be considered a ‘high' nighttime temperature? Rachael remembers having a conversation roughly 20 years ago with UC dry bean breeder of that time, Steve Temple, who said that nighttime temperatures above 68°F will cause poor pod set. This is corroborated by recent work out of the University of Delaware that indicates nighttime temperatures of roughly 70°F impairing pod set. CIMIS recorded nighttime temperatures in that range. The grower indicated that some nights stayed closer to 80°F, which is the temperature at which breeders screen varieties for heat tolerance.
So, what can a grower do during a heatwave? Obviously, we can't control the weather, but it's important to ensure that beans are not moisture-stressed at bloom, and especially not when bloom occurs during a heatwave. Check the top 12 to 24 inches of the soil profile, and irrigate if the soil is dry. If in doubt about how much water is needed, check the reference evapotranspiration (ETo) and irrigate to replace at least 120 percent of your daily ETo. Daily August ETo in the San Joaquin Valley ranges from 0.2 to 0.3 inches per day, so growers would want to apply 120 percent of that amount. In the field that I visited, the crop looked very healthy and non-stressed, so there is no clear suggestion for a management practice that could have saved the set during our recent heatwave.
For more information on lima bean production in California, please see the UC production manual.
Soil health has been described as the ability of soil to function and is characterized by biological, chemical, and physical soil properties that are sensitive to changes in management. Studies have shown that reducing tillage, increasing rotational crop diversity, and employing cover crops during the fallow season can improve soil health characteristics. In turn, improvements in soil health may enhance various soil functions, like improving crop productivity, reducing input costs, and buffering plant health from living and non-living stresses.
Over the last year and a half, I have been working on a project to characterize a suite of soil health properties in alfalfa receiving full and deficit irrigation. When I was developing the project, I had two hunches. The first was that alfalfa production may improve certain soil health characteristics. Alfalfa provides soil coverage for several years. Alfalfa is also a deep-rooted crop that can scavenge water and nutrients deep in the soil profile. Additionally, alfalfa has been shown to provide a nitrogen benefit to subsequent crops. For reasons like these, I hypothesized that certain soil health characteristics might improve over the years of an alfalfa stand.
My second hunch, however, was that deficit irrigation could negatively impact soil health properties. In recent years, California alfalfa production has received negative press for water usage that exceeds that of other crops. Alfalfa does represent an important footprint in California's agricultural water use. Alfalfa has a high water demand (i.e. crop evapotranspiration, ETc) that is directly related to yield. All else being equal, as ETc increases, alfalfa yield also increases up to maximum ETc. Studies conducted by UC Alfalfa and Forage Specialist, Dan Putnam, have demonstrated, however, that alfalfa is resilient under water deficit conditions. While alfalfa may be resilient under deficit irrigation, water facilitates soil microbe functioning and nutrient availability. Therefore, I also hypothesize that soil health may degrade under deficit irrigation. This is critical knowledge to develop not only for deficit irrigation strategies but also in the event of drought, where growers may be asked to sacrifice crop irrigation for water transfers to other uses. Such knowledge could demonstrate how prioritization of water uses may impact soil conservation outcomes.
This project is being conducted at UC Davis on a Yolo silt loam and was initiated in Spring 2019. The treatments, which are replicated four times, are: 1) full irrigation (100 percent ETc), 2) full irrigation at the beginning of the season with a sudden cutoff toward the end of the season (60 percent ETc), 3) gradual deficit where each irrigation imposes restriction (60 percent ETc), and 4) more-severe gradual deficit (40 percent ETc). The treatments are applied using overhead irrigation – an 8000 series Valley 500 feet, four span linear-move system. The site allows us to observe soil characteristics under different levels of deficit, imposed at different stages of the cropping season. Soil sampling occurs twice each year – in the spring before irrigation begins and in the fall after the last irrigation. We are testing a comprehensive nutrient analysis, organic matter, total carbon and nitrogen, salinity, compaction, bulk density, N mineralization, and particulate organic carbon.
This project is ongoing, but we have interesting preliminary results. One example is with particulate organic carbon. Particulate organic carbon (POC) is a biological indicator of soil health because it is the fraction of soil organic matter that is readily available as an energy source for soil microorganisms. Though not statistically significant (Fig. 1, P = 0.066), there is a trend for the higher irrigation rates – and sustained irrigation throughout the season – to have higher POC. Between the two irrigation treatments providing approximately 60 percent of ETc, the third treatment which provides a sustained deficit throughout the season tends to have higher POC than the 60 percent ETc treatment that has a sudden cut-off of water about two-thirds of the way through the season. These results suggest the importance of water in sustaining soil biological activity.
Likewise, there is a similar trend for higher irrigation rates and sustained irrigation through the season to result in lower soil compaction readings (Fig. 2, P = 0.2691). At the 6-inch depth, the full irrigation rate trended toward having the lowest compaction, followed by the 60 percent sustained deficit treatment. All treatments, however, had average readings below 300 psi, which is the pressure above which root growth is believed to be constrained.
These are preliminary results. We will soil sample again this fall, and hopefully again next spring and fall, to see if these trends continue. I want to acknowledge my UC Davis collaborators on this project: Dan Putnam, Isaya Kisekka, Daniel Geisseler, Umair Gull, and Veronica Romero. I also want to acknowledge the South Delta Water Agency for funding support.
Figure 1. Average particulate organic carbon (top 12 inches) across four irrigation treatments and three seasonal readings (Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020).
Figure 2. Average soil compaction at 6-inch depth across four irrigation treatments and three seasonal readings (Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Summer 2020).