Monday, February 24, 2014

Almond Trees Starting to Bloom as Drought Looms in the Valley

Almond trees are blooming on the Valley's westside.
It’s a familiar and often spectacular scene for motorists traveling on a normally drab Interstate 5 along the western end of the San Joaquin Valley.

 This time of year, we start seeing acres and acres of almond trees bursting in color with the start of bloom. Almond field scout Jenna Horine reports bees hovering around white bee boxes and buzzing from tree to tree on the westside. “Bees are everywhere,” Jenna says. Pollination is in full swing. 

Bee boxes are placed around the orchard for pollination.
More inland in areas such as Firebaugh, the almond trees are still waiting to bloom. Normally, almond growers right now would are excited about the prospects of another banner year for the state’s No. 1 export crop.
Of course, this isn’t your typical year. As we all now, we’re in for a third straight dry year and drought is now big news for the media.

On Friday, for example, the media played up the news from the Bureau of Reclamation that the initial 2014 water allocation would be zero for Central Valley Project customers, including the Westlands Water District, which serves farmers on the westside. The announcement came as no surprise to farmers, who have been telling us for weeks they were anticipating the bureau to shut off spigot this season.

“This low allocation is yet another indicator of the impacts the severe drought is having on California communities, agriculture, businesses, power, and the environment,” reclamation commissioner Michael L. Connor stated in his announcement. 
Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands Water District, said the zero allocation will affect decisions about planting crops for this year and fallowing land in the future. These decisions will have consequences that reach beyond the farmers and workers in
the Central Valley Region, he added.

While the politicians debate the water issue, farmers are pressing ahead. They are in survival mode. One almond grower tells us he could be out of water by June and will be doing the best he can to preserve his trees for the future. Jenna says UC farm advisors are suggesting growers clear weeds and even cover crops from the orchards as a water saving measure.

Clearing weeds and cover crops to can save on water.
David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension pomology farm advisor in Merced County, offered some valuable tips for growers during our recent field day in Firebaugh. The Sustainable Cotton Project website has posted a video of his talk about the drought’s impact on almond production. We give the video “Two thumbs up.”

Throughout the season, we’ll provide useful tips and information to help growers deal with the water issue and pest and disease management during the drought. Meanwhile, let’s hope the storms predicted to arrive mid-week leave a good amount of rain in the valley and snow in the mountains. Anything will help.

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