Experience, Technology Go Hand In Hand

Johnnie Werner
PCA, Wilbur-Ellis Co.
Ord Bend, California

I grew up in the little community of Richvale, which is a centralized hub for rice in the Sacramento Valley. My spring and summer jobs were driving a tractor for local growers and working at Jones Flying Service. My grandfather and now my parents own a small rice ranch that my wife and I will farm one day.

After graduating from California State University-Chico, I went to work for a local company that was looking for a young pest control adviser. I soon got my PCA license, and after four years, joined John Taylor Fertilizer. About 20 years ago, Wilbur-Ellis bought the company, and I was part of the acquisition. Today, I am based at the Ord Bend location and mostly work in Glenn, Colusa and Butte counties.

In 2019, a lot of rice was planted later than normal because of rain, but we had an excellent fall for harvest. The early rice did well, and the later-planted rice was average. Because the ground was wet at the beginning of the season, growers weren’t able to put down the standard pre-plant fertilizer. This meant we had to spoon-feed the rice every couple of weeks with an airplane. I always thought it was a lot of work and too risky, but I learned it’s possible to make an average rice crop using this approach.

Battling Weeds
The unexpected moisture also gave the rice weeds a head start, which put pressure on our current herbicides. We have many types of weeds, but in my opinion, watergrass, smallflower umbrella sedge and ricefield bulrush (rough-seed sedge) are the main ones.

This year, we have a new tool in RebelEX® CA herbicide — a premix of Clincher® CA herbicide and Granite® SC herbicide that targets watergrass and sprangletop. Growers will have to handle only one jug instead of two. But, in my opinion, the big convenience is being able to apply RebelEX CA in the fly zones.

In a program calling for a double shot of granular formulation on watergrass in a tight buffer zone, I team up Granite GR herbicide with another herbicide. One example is to apply Cerano herbicide at seeding to hopefully slow down the watergrass and then finish it off with an application of Granite GR at the 3-leaf rice stage. In my opinion, this is an excellent approach to take out watergrass early in the season.

In rice-only fields, I try to rotate chemistries to manage resistance, because we have a limited number of tools in California.

Embracing Technology
Wilbur-Ellis has made a big investment in technology and in its young people, who are full of enthusiasm and really smart. The technology revolution is second nature to them.

Joel Lundberg is one of our young PCAs who has taught me a lot about using field scouting technology. He helps me monitor our armyworm pheromone traps to pinpoint heavily infested areas and keep an extra eye on them.

We also take advantage of the armyworm monitoring program operated by the University of California Cooperative Extension and Corteva Agriscience. UCCE Rice Farming Systems Advisor Luis Espino posts moth counts on a website (http://rice.ucanr.edu/armyworm_traps/), so we can keep up with potential peaks.

With late rains and added snow in the mountains, our water situation is looking better. Growers got an early start on their groundwork, and, in my opinion, we have a good chance to plant 100% in the Sacramento Valley. 2020 is setting up to be a great year.

Johnnie Werner

  • B.S., science and agronomy, California State University-Chico.
  • Consulted for 31 years.
  • Consults on rice, alfalfa, corn, beans, sunflowers, tomatoes, walnuts and some almonds.
  • Member of the California Association of Professional Crop Advisers (CAPCA).
  • Married to wife, Margie, for 25 years. Three children: Matt, Molly and Megan. Four grandchildren: Aiden, Henry, Jack and Sawyer.
  • Enjoys hunting, fishing in Lake Almanor and spending time with the grandkids.

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