This is how Western ag looked 25 years ago

History teaches that everything changes and yet nothing changes…except everyone gets older with time.

The first 49 issues of California-Arizona Farm Press (now Western Farm Press) certainly substantiate that. Many of the people featured in that first year's issues are still in the business of agriculture in California and Arizona. They just seem a lot older today than they did in those black and white photos of 25 years ago.

Many of the headlines 25 years ago could also be attached to headlines of articles today. Yet, there were headlines and articles on subjects like jojoba, rapeseed and yes soybeans in California in those early issues of Farm Press that will never be useful again.

In reliving that first year, here are some of the topics in those early editions.

In inaugural issue on Jan. 1, 1979, a front page headline said cotton losses for San Joaquin Valley producers from bad weather and insects in 1978 could reach $360 million. That was probably the last truly terrible cotton year the valley has experienced.

“How Will New China Policy Affect U.S. Cotton Exports” was another Page 1 headline. Nothing has changed in China's enormous impact on world commodity prices.

There was an article about new University of California research on vegetable planting seed techniques like squirting pre-germinated celery seed into the ground in a jelly-like substance and a fairly new planting technique for tomatoes called “plug planting.”

An article from the California-Arizona Alfalfa Symposium in Holtville, Calif., quoted Tulare County, Calif., dairyman Bob Wilbur saying he had learned more about growing alfalfa hay after he started up a dairy than in all the 12 years of growing hay he had before.

Columnists in that first issue included UC Extension Cotton Specialist Kamal El-Zik; Dukes Wooters, president of Cotton Incorporated; Bill McClellan, Tulare County UC farm advisor; Al Lane, Arizona Extension livestock specialist, Calcot communications director Jay Ericsson; D.L. Bath, California Extension dairy nutritionist and Bob Dennis, Arizona Extension agronomist. Arizona Extension Cotton Specialist Brooks Taylor predicted in that inaugural issue that cotton acreage in Arizona for 1979 would be more than the 568,000 planted the year before.

Rominger interview

A lengthy interview with then director the California Department of Food and Agriculture Richard Rominger covered a wide range of topics, including the need for more surface water storage in the state and the likelihood of groundwater regulations.

Rominger discussed a proposal from Gov. Jerry Brown's administration called the Peripheral Canal that would ferry water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and into the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. It was called a more efficient and water-saving way to move water through the Delta. They are still talking about the same thing today, calling it anything but the Peripheral Canal.

There was a short article in that first issue about an upcoming soybean production conference in Visalia, Calif. There 20,000 acres of soybeans grown in the San Joaquin Valley in 1978. Soybeans lasted a few more seasons, but have not been heard about since.

In the Jan. 16, 1979 issue venerable Santa Barbara County grape grower Joe Carrari of Los Alamos, Calif., talked about the burgeoning wine grape growing industry in Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo County. The photo on Page 1 was of Joe driving a hay swather through an alfalfa field that would soon become a vineyard.

That article generated one of the really funny farming tales in the past 25 year.

Joe's cash-flow hay was a bleached-out, coastal hay that was always susceptible to damage from coastal summer fog and rain. To keep it from becoming moldy, he applied an oleate hay saver.

He sold his hay to a feed store in Los Angeles as horse hay. He lost a cutting once and had none for the store, which went into the High Desert north of Los Angeles and bought bright green hay. Only problem was the horses owned by the feed store's customers would not eat it as well as Joe's dull-looking hay.

The store called Joe and wanted more of his hay. It took a while to figure out why the horses loved Joe's hay. The wily old Italian grape grower realized that the horses would eat his hay because they were “hooked” on the taste of the oleate hay saver.

Who said farming is not addictive?

There was a column in that same issue by mentor and friend Alan George, Tulare County, Calif., UC cotton farm advisor, who along with the late O.D. “Mac” McCutcheon, Kings County farm advisor, and former USDA plant physiologist V.T. Walhood were pioneers in developing what everyone today likes to call ultra narrow row (UNR) cotton.

Sugar beet article

Dos Palos, Calif., sugar beet grower Don Sorg was also in that issue, telling how he coaxed 35 to 40 tons of sugar beets out of his ground.

Using herbicides for controlling weeds was the focal point of the Feb. 27, 1979 issue. Sanger, Calif., table grape grower Darmon Dunkle explained how he relied on herbicides for weed control in his vineyards.

Weed expert David Cudney, who only recently retired from the University of California, had an article in that same issue detailing how spending money to control weeds in alfalfa was well worth the cost.

Another venerable one, Harold Kempen, longtime Kern County Cooperative Extension weed expert detailed some of his research on cotton weed control. Buttonwillow Land and Cattle's Wes Selvidge explained how his row cap sled applied herbicide and planted cotton at the same time on his family's Kern County, Calif., farm.

Remember “ice nucleating bacteria?” In the April 7, 1979 issue there was an article about how a University of California Berkeley professor could keep water liquid down to 22 degrees by controlling frost-generating bacteria. The idea was to control these bacterial in citrus groves and thereby prevent frost damage. The professor demonstrated his theory to an enthralled audience of citrus growers in Exeter, Calif.

The science that was heralded as end of the need for wind machines went the way of jojoba.

Pinal County, Ariz., extension agent Sam Stedman wrote about aiming for earlier cotton in that same issue. Butte County, Calif., UC farm advisor warned growers walnut blight sprays require wise decisions.

Winegrape Growers

A meeting of the fledgling California Association of Winegrape Growers featured speakers bemoaning the fact the wine grape industry needed more market clout.

That same issue features pictures of the new San Joaquin Valley Acala Cotton Board. One picture featured a very young Bill Stone, now chairman of the San Joaquin Valley Cotton Board. His predecessor, Norm Clark was sporting a very Lincolnesque beard in the same pictures.

The page one photo in the May 5, 1979 issue was a rapeseed field in Dunnigan, Calif. It was accompanied by an article about increasing grower interest in rapeseed.

There were more livestock features in those days, and there was an article in this issue about a Chino dairyman using tail chalk to improve heat detection with his dairy cows.

Seed bean production by Lompoc, Calif., bean growers Frank and John Silva was the subject of another article in that issue.

Frank Kincaid, manager of Windmer Vineyards in Alexander Valley, Calif., talked about why he converted his Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards to a Geneva Double Curtain trellising system to improve yields and quality in the June 2, 1979 issue…

The large 1979 California and Arizona cotton crops were reported to be off to a good start in that same edition, and Madera, Calif., nurseryman Don Howard was featured in an article about pistachios.

The transformation from farming Bartlett Pears to premium wine grapes and the impending emergence of Lake County as part of the North Coast premium wine region was the subject of a major feature about Lake County, Calif., in the July 7, 1979 issue.

The Biggs (Calif.) Rice Research Station and its impact on California rice production was the subject of another feature article that proclaimed that the “day is coming when we will produce 100 hundredweight per acre of rice.”

Tomato trials

There also were reports on fresh market tomato variety trials in Le Grand, Calif., and foothill wine grape day in Plymouth, Calif.

The voracious Western grapeleaf skeletonizer was identified as a major threat to San Joaquin Valley vineyards in the Aug. 4, 1979 issue.

One of the pioneers of modern day San Joaquin Valley agriculture, Jack Stone, was featured in an article about producing melons…not cotton. Stone is a former president of the National Cotton Council.

The emerging role of the computer in agriculture was the feature of an article about dairymen using one of the new marvels to mix feed rations. It was a feature article in the Sept. 1, 1979 issue. The computer program was developed by the University of California to aid members of a Northern California dairy cooperative in determining nutritional values of various feedstuffs.

The California Planting Cotton Seed Distributors' (CPCSD) new research center at Shafter, Calif., was nearing completion, according to another article in that early fall edition.

A new grapevine grafting technique called T-budding was detailed to grape growers at a meeting covered by Farm Press at the University of California research center at Parlier, Calif.

There was another article in that issue about Lockwood Seed, Chowchilla, Calif., and its cereal seed business.

The negative impact of defoliating cotton early was a caution issued in the Oct. 6, 1979 by another early day mentor, Brooks Taylor of the University of Arizona.

Raj Sharma, then entomology UC farm advisor in Imperial County, Calif., asked the question, “How many times to spray cotton” in the Imperial Valley, which was rapidly becoming overrun with pink bollworm.

Grape growers were reported angry over a trade bill that created an uneven playing field in the export market.

A free and open export market was also the theme of a story from the annual gathering of the Arizona Forage and Grain Symposium. One of the quotes from that meeting, “Don't delude yourself that you have a free and unbridled market.”

This edition also heralded jojoba as an economical alternative crop in Arizona.

Rice yields were reported as moving to a state record in the Nov. 1, 1979 issue.

There was also a warning about a new pink bollworm infestation.

This issue also reported on the untimely death of Cotton Incorporated chairman and Arizona cotton grower Joe Sheely and his wife in a plane crash in the desert north of Los Angeles on a return flight to Arizona after visiting their son, Ted, in California.

Laser leveling was sweeping Salinas Valley, according to another article in that November issue.

And, there was an extensive report on the effects of air pollution on San Joaquin Valley crops.

A frost warning system monitoring 32 difference citrus ranches in the Porterville, Calif., area was the subject of another article in that issue.

The final issue of the year on Dec. 1, 1979 proclaimed artichokes were making a comeback in Castroville, Calif.

Growers were no doubt happy to read that the 1979 cotton crop should make a “little money.”

And there was a promising new growth regulator called Pix that promised to change the way cotton was produced.

There was a report on a possibility of a gasohol facility in Wilcox, Ariz.; California's proposed pesticide rules were expected to impact heavily on California agriculture, according to experts quoted in this issue.

A conference in Fresno, Calif., was held to let the state's farmers know the California's water crisis would soon exceed the severity of the energy crisis.

There were 49 issues that first year. All printed on newsprint and the photos were in dull black and white. And yes, the ink still comes off on your hands after all the years. That was about the only complaint that first year.

Soap and water still takes the newsprint your hands, but nothing can remove the memories of a great start.

e-mail: [email protected]

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