Monday, August 27, 2018

It’s Time to Get Shakin’ in Valley Almond Orchards

With September around the corner, it’s time to shake, dry and sweep in Valley almond orchards.

Field scout Jenna Mayfield says the almond harvest is finally picking up after getting off to a slow start this season. “Growers are shaking away, knocking the nuts off the trees.” 

Shakers use big claws to grasp on the tree trunk.
Almonds are havested by mechanical shakers outfitted with crab-like claws that clamp onto the trunk of the tree and vigorously shake the almonds onto the grounds.

Jenna notes growers plant at least two different varieties of almonds for cross pollination and each variety will mature at a different time. That means growers will send the harvesting equipment to shake the mature nuts off the trees again. After the nuts are collected off the ground, they are taken to a processor to remove the dried green hulls, crack the shells and separate the meat.

Sometimes, there will be a third shaking if growers believe there are enough left over nuts to make it economical to harvest again. It’s quite a juggling act for growers, especially small farms that need to schedule outside harvesters to bring their equipment into the orchards.
After shaking, the almonds will dry on the orchard floor.

You might call the almond harvest a marathon rather than a sprint. This year, though, growers may wind up sprinting near the end of the harvest. Here’s why: Jenna points out that some growers started the almond harvest as early as July 22 in 2017. This year, the earlybirds began around August 10.

The nearly three-week difference could push the harvest into Halloween or even later for some. That could make it tricky if the weather changes and wet storms hit the area. Rain will hurt the quality of the meat and run up costs for mechanical drying. Jenna says the threat of rain could trigger around-the-clock harvesting.

Another worry for growers: Ants. The longer the nuts are on the ground the more susceptible they are to ant damage. “Growers need to be vigilant about ants.”

Growers worry about ants damaging almonds on the ground.
At the same time, growers are mindful of air quality and are investing in equipment to keep dust down during shaking and sweeping operations. Farm advisers recommend growers adjust harvest equipment to match orchard conditions, following simple steps such as reducing speed or planning the machine’s path up and down the rows between trees.

Growers try to minimize dust during the mechanical harvest.
As a rule, growers will shake about two weeks after the last irrigation to minimize bark damage during the shaking. The timing depends on the type of soil. Sand requires less time to dry out while clay requires more time.

In orchards with sand and other soils that don’t hold water very well, growers may need to irrigate between harvesting the different varieties.  Proper water management is important during harvest time.

Yes, the harvest may have started, but it’s a long way to the finish line.

 Happy shaking.

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