Mike Larkin, manager and agronomist with Precision Agri-Lab in Madera, discussed minimizing environmental impacts of fertilizer applications.

It’s best, he said, to provide smaller doses of nutrients multiple times, likening that approach to people who prefer to eat periodically, not one meal a month. He also emphasized the importance of keeping nutrients within the root zone.

Foliar applications, while more expensive, provide greater efficiency, Larkin said.

“As fertilizer prices increase, we want to only apply what we need,” he said. That may mean a need to do more soil and plant tissue testing.

He pointed out that excessive applications of nitrogen can have adverse effects, including increased vegetative growth, reduced fruit set and reduction in sugar content.

And potassium demand could exceed demand for nitrogen, particularly in sandy soils.

Larkin recommends testing of the plant petiole as well as leaf blade: “The petiole is like the highway for the plant, and the leaf blade is the parking lot.” The petiole, he said, is the “transport mechanism” and the blade plays a role in storage.

He said there are five stages at which plant sampling can be done:  at pre-bloom, bloom time, berry set verasion and post harvest. He favors sampling at bloom, berry set and verasion.

Other speakers included:

Guadalupe Sandoval, executive director of the California Farm Labor Contractor Association.

Sandoval said he believes a proposed farmworker safety bill, AB 2346, is flawed and could have unintended consequences. Among its provisions, he said, is a requirement for workers to be taken to a medical doctor within five minutes if they complain of a headache or other symptoms of heat illness rather than being given first aid.

His fear: “They will have to stop working; they will stop complaining and die instead.”

Sandoval said he does favor proposed legislation, AB 1675, that would bring greater liability to growers who contract with unlicensed farm labor contractors.

He also distributed a checklist for growers to follow when entering into labor contracts, including recommendations on proper transportation of workers.

Sandoval pointed to a Supreme Court decision that holds that employers are not required to ensure employees do no work during meal periods. He said that is an important ruling for agriculture given that some piece workers may wish to waive the right to meal breaks.

Pete Mendez and Andrea Alexander, representatives of Pacific Gas and Electric, spoke on the California Solar Initiative and incentives offered for projects. The project must have a minimum size of 1 kilowatt and a maximum of 5 megawatts. Energy audits must be done before applying for incentives.

Areas in which collectors are placed should face south, west or east, and the best alignment is south or southwest. If the collectors are roof mounted, care should be taken to assure that there is “significant roof life left,” Mendez said.

He said projects should not be sized to exceed electrical use requirements.

Financing methods include cash, loan, lease or payment only for energy produced by the system.

Patty Oliver, United Valley Insurance, said the picture for health care reform could change greatly in the months ahead as an election and court ruling loom.

She said among positive outcomes of the reform is the fact that a child can remain insured to age 26 on their parents plan. She recommends keeping children on plans as a dependent rather than insuring them as an employee if they are in a family business.

Oliver said agricultural employers do not have to offer insurance to seasonal employees and that that it may cost less to pay the annual fine for not offering insurance than it would to pay for the insurance.