Vegetable Crops in Transition

E. Coli continued to dominate conversations of growers and PCAs in spinach and other leafy vegetables, as a voluntary lettuce recall and talk of potential new food safety and vegetable production regulations kept the issue in the news and on the minds of consumers.

“People here are scratching their heads a bit about spinach, and this week are scratching their heads about lettuce, too,” said Rick Bottoms, vegetable crops farm advisor in Imperial County as the Western vegetable production and harvest begins to transition from California’s coastal and valley areas to the Southern California and Southwestern Arizona areas.

Despite the voluntary lettuce recall of 8,500 cartons of lettuce by one major Salinas packer due to positive E. coli bacteria tests in irrigation water, Bottoms said growers are moving along with planting lettuce in the desert and on Oct. 8 were about midway through the planting season.

Efren Celaya, an independent PCA in Salinas, noted that while the punch of the recall is over, “the injury still lives on.”

Celaya said he and other Salinas Valley PCAs are working closely working with growers, water agencies, and regulators to help ensure all criteria are being met to maximize the safety of harvested product.

“We’re helping the growers abide by all EPA and FDA criteria,” he said. “I’m trying to help out the grower anyway I can. If they can’t get their water testing done on a bi-weekly basis, I help them do that to make sure they have their paperwork in order.”

Despite the news in lettuce, markets appeared to remain steady at about $15 to $17 f.o.b. for romaine lettuce and $7 to $8 for head lettuce, according to wholesale market reports.

Meanwhile, as the industry comes to terms with potential long-term fallout, PCAs continue their normal roles of managing pests.

Weather conditions continued to be excellent, providing for manageable pest pressures, excellent emergence and an extended harvest for some vegetable crops on the coast.

Henry Carrasco, PCA with Western Farm Service’s Salinas branch, said lettuce red aphid has been consistently troublesome on romaine and head lettuce for the last couple months, aggravated by host plants from neighboring fields of organic lettuce and the host plant radicchio.

“We are having to treat vigorously for lettuce red aphid and have also been using a systemic in known hot spots,” Carrasco said.

While leafminer continued to plague some lettuce fields, particularly near cole crops and artichokes, Carrasco said that those pressures should wane as temperatures cool. Carrasco was also treating for cabbage aphid and cabbage looper in cole crops, rotating with a various modes of action.

“The big issue right now is not combing the same like chemistries, such as two pyrethroids or strobilurins, to avoid residual and resistance problems,” he said.

He noted that a recent memo from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to county agricultural commissioners expressed concern about tank mixing two products with the same active ingredient and the potential for increased dosage rate in violation of labeled rates.

Most diseases, such as downy mildew, on coastal lettuce have been sparse, particularly as newer resistant varieties help buffer the impact of the pathogen.

“Occasional bacterial leaf spot in romaine is popping up but other than that the major diseases have been relatively light. October is our Indian Summer, which keeps both insects and diseases fairly moderate for the most part,” Carrasco said.

Cole crop and lettuce harvests in mid-October were transitioning to the Central Valley, where fieldmen also reported good growing conditions and only moderate pest pressures.

Further into the desert, temperatures were beginning to cool, allowing growers to adjust irrigations and enjoy lower weed pressures, Bottoms said.

Flea beetles and armyworms continue to trouble some growers, however. Clyde Shields, an independent PCA in Brawley, said yellow striped and beet armyworms seem to be heavy in his region relative to normal this time of year as heavy populations have migrated out of alfalfa fields this fall. Shields said he is relying on more selective chemistries with longer residuals to stay ahead of the curve.

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