Monday, November 18, 2013

Winter Orchard Maintenance, Water Supplies Top of Mind for SJ Valley Almond Growers

The almond harvest has been over for a while, but you wouldn’t know it given the flurry of activity in the orchards.

Farm workers replace damaged drip lines in an orchard.
There are weeds to take care of. There are drip lines to repair. There are pre-emergent sprays to apply. There are mummy nuts to knock off the trees…and more.

Almond field scout Jenna Horine calls it winterizing – a time to prepare the orchards for the winter. Growers want to take care of these late-fall chores before wet weather arrives. Check out UC IPM’s year-round plan for almonds for more information. UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors are available to answers about almond production and practices. In Merced County, contact David Doll at (209) 385-703 and in Fresno and Madera counties, contact Gureet Barr at (559) 241-7526.

Before we call 2013 a wrap, though, let’s take a look back at the season. Jenna, who finally finished cracking all those nuts collected orchards around the valley this summer, estimates finding less pest damage this year than in 2012. That’s a good sign that growers did a good job in their pest management practices.

Winter chores include tilling the rows between trees.
Her results are being compiled and the information will be passed along to growers that participated in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project, a program that helps growers implement best management practices and provides field day educational programs featuring leading almond experts in the Central Valley.

Meanwhile, many growers are telling Jenna that 2013 turned out to be a pretty good, yet relatively average year. That comes amid a dry winter, reduced water allocations and a late bloom. Don’t forget the high winds in April that toppled trees and knocked limbs and nuts off the trees.

Growers are concerned about future water availability.
Overall, the USDA predicted this year’s almond production to weigh in at 1.85 billion pounds, about a 2 percent drop from 2012. The forecast is based on 810,000 acres of nut-bearing trees.

Like other farmers, almond growers also are worried about water after facing a dry winter and reduced water allocations in 2013. During the summer, the USDA found the nut set per tree was down 5 percent from 2012 while kernel weight – 1.36 grams – was the lowest in four decades.

That may explain the heavy springtime nut drop and reduced yield experienced in the Butte and Padre varieties grown by one local grower.

Lack of water can affect almond kernels.
University of California researchers have conducted a number of studies about water deficits and the impact on almonds and trees, especially during drought years. Here’s what UC experts say:Generally, nut size is reduced in the first season of significant water stress. Because water stress also reduces vegetative growth and potentially decreases productivity per unit canopy volume, nut load can be reduced in subsequent years.”

 Jenna plans to bring up the issue during an Almond Field Day being planned for December. Stay tuned.

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