As the last full week of February got under way, almond orchards at Borba Farms in the southernmost reach of Fresno County were looking good.
“The trees are really starting to push,” says Mark Borba at Borba Farms, which includes 1,240 acres near Huron, Calif. “On Friday (Feb. 18), the bloom was pretty sparse, but by Tuesday (the 22nd), blooms were really popping. By the end of the week they should be in full bloom.”
Varieties typically include a combination of Nonpareil, Aldridge, Monterey, Fritz, Wood Colony, Butte and Padre. Planted in 2004 and 2005, the trees are starting their seventh and eighth year of production.
They’re starting this season following a winter of adequate chilling and great rainfall, Borba says. In fact, the rains have helped wash the soil profile of some of the salts that have accumulated due to saline well water he used to help get trees through the recent drought.
The orchards lie within the Westlands Water District of the Central Valley Project (CVP). Last year, Borba Farms received only 45 percent of its water allocation, and keeping the almond trees alive required considerable groundwater pumping. However, the CVP allocation was concentrated on the almond orchards, while most of the saline well water was used on row crops.
“The trees look to be healthy and ready for a good bloom season,” Borba says
Now, it’s up to Mother Nature.
Rain, continued cool weather and the possibility of areas of isolated frost were in the forecast for the end of the week.
“It’s a typical pollination season for us,” he says. “I’ve been in this business for 38 years and you only worry about what you can control. When you’re growing a crop that pollinates in late winter and early spring, you have to expect some cold, wet weather. As my Dad used to tell me, ‘If farming was so easy, everyone would want to do it.’”
The recent rains have increased the threat of brown rot blossom blight. Borba and other growers are standing by to respond, if needed, with aerial or ground applications of fungicides, depending on field conditions. Continued rain could also encourage outbreaks of shot hole disease during leaf-out.
Right now, though, Borba’s main concern is the impact of wet, cool conditions on pollination of almonds as bees forage for pollen. Bees require temperatures of 55 degrees or higher, no rain and winds no stronger than 15 miles per hour before they’ll leave their hives. Cloudiness also reduces flight activity.
“Even though we’ve had some sunshine and it hasn’t exactly been raining, we haven’t been getting a lot of bee activity with the cold temperatures,” he says. “On Monday, Feb. 21, shortly after the start of bloom, the high temperature was only 55 degrees and more rains and frost are in the week’s forecast.”
Growers generally got the all the bees they needed this year. Costs are similar or up a little from last season, averaging about $145 per hive. Since mature trees require 2½ hives per acre, the cost totals almost $365 an acre
Meanwhile, the prices of some of Borba’s inputs have been climbing. He expects fertilizers, particularly nitrogen and potassium, to be up 40 percent to 50 percent this year over last season.
On Feb. 18, he paid $3.07 a gallon for an 8,500-gallon truck/trailer bulk fuel delivery. That’s 80 cents, or more than a third, higher than he paid a year ago for a gallon of the fuel.