Monday, September 29, 2014

Even After the Almond Harvest, Water Remains No. 1 on the Minds of Valley Growers

Trees are uprooted because of the drought.
The season began with water on their minds. The season ends with water on their minds.
That’s the assessment for the 2014 almond seasons as growers wrap up the harvest. We’ll have to wait for reports from processors to see what kind of quality of this season’s crop.

For certain, one of the most severe droughts on record was the No.1 topic – greatly influencing how almond growers farmed. Some uprooted trees. Some dug wells. Some diverted water from other crops. Some cut back on irrigation. 

Dust cover trees by dirt road.
Mites lead to sticky nuts.
“The trees were a lot more stressed this year,” says field scout Jenna Horine.  “Some farmers said they had more nuts drop this year (before harvest).”

Jenna observed an uptick in pests this year. While there are no simple reasons for the increase, it is a good guess the drought and tight water supplies were contributors. 

Jenna points to dustier roads along the orchard margins. Some growers opted to water down dirt roads less than in the past when water was more plentiful and less expensive. Trucks kicking up dust would send mites into the orchards.

For the most part, the large almond operations are finished with their harvest. A few of the smaller operators are just starting to shake their nuts off the trees. These small farms can’t afford to own their own harvesters and must hire operators to come in with their equipment. They usually end up down on the waiting list.
Shaking almonds off the trees.
The almond harvest is a multi-step process. First, a shaker comes in and shakes the nuts off the trees. The nuts are left to dry for seven to 10 days. A sweeper comes in to sweep the nuts into a centerline pile and then a pick-up machine rounds them up to be hauled off the processor.

Almonds between tree rows are scooped up.
With fall now here, the focus for growers turns to post-harvest chores. Once again, water comes into play. Jenna points out growers are evaluating their water budget. Should they use up their supplies and pray for rain or hold back some for later use?

The University of California has a nice summary of research about irrigation management for almond trees under drought conditions. Post harvest irrigation strategy depends on earlier water management decisions and the stress that was put on the trees.

Growers should attend next week’s Almond Field Day in Los Banos to learn valuable post harvest management tips from UCCE Merced’s David Doll and UCCE Fresno’s Gurrett Brar. Sponsored by the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project, the event will be Tuesday, October 7 from 10 a.m. to noon at the corner of Mercy Springs Road and Cotton Gin Road. Continuing education and CCA credits will be available. For more information, contact Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or

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