After beginning around Aug. 7, about a week to 10 days earlier than usual, the 2013 Merced County almond harvest was continuing to progress well through the end of the month. Although a sizeable number of nuts remain to be shaken off the trees, the crop appears to be a good size, reports David Doll.
“We tend to get a frost in March or April, which sets production back a little,” he says. “But, that didn’t happen this year.”
Doll expects overall almond production in California to be in line with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s objective estimate of 1.85 billion meat pounds of almonds, announced July 1. That would be almost 2 percent under the 1.8 billion pounds California’s growers harvest last year.
“Generally the actual crop size doesn’t deviate too much from the estimate,” he says. “Based on what I’m hearing from other areas, I think the crop will be close to that estimate.”
However, Doll didn’t expect the smaller-than-usual kernel sizes he’s seeing this year, especially with the relatively high number of younger trees coming into production. Usually, because of the fewer nuts on these trees in relation to their amount of photosynthesis activity, younger trees, typically, produce larger kernels.
Sometimes, smaller kernels reflect improper nutrient and water management. However, he attributes the smaller sizes this year to another factor.
“It’s the result of the warm and, in some cases, hot 80- and 90-degree temperatures we had in early spring,” Doll says. “When it gets hot, leaves respire more, using more photosynthate for this process. That reduces the amount of sugars that are directed towards the developing kernel. Add in the shorter growing season due to the late bloom with the early harvest and we ended up with smaller kernels.”
In some cases, late summer water stress has also lead to more shriveled kernels and an increase in the number of textured kernels, those with rippled skins, Doll notes.
“It’s not excessive, but we’re seeing these quality deficiencies this year,” he says. “With curtailment of water deliveries in many blocks and dropping water tables, farmers have been struggling to provide their trees enough water this season.”
Generally, navel orangeworm pressure in Merced County almond orchards is relatively low, Doll notes. But, this year trap counts have been on the high side and growers have responded by treating their trees with more insecticide sprays. To improve their rate of success in controlling this pest, many growers bracketed their sprays this year.
In some areas of the state, growers tend to do this each season, but, usually, not in Merced County. Bracketing involves making one spray at the beginning of hull split in Nonpareils, whose weaker shell seals leave them more vulnerable to the worms, followed by a second application later when other varieties are going through hull split.
A few Merced County growers have even done three sprays this year, making an earlier application in May, he adds.
This year’s strong almond prices should help reduce the impact of that added expense on growers. “Prices are really good,” Doll says. “I doubt if any are complaining.”