Glenn County, Calif., grower Gary Anderson says his 2012 walnut crop did not end up a great one, just like the one the year before. The past season wasn’t a banner year for his almonds, either.
He thinks it may be the weather.
Although precipitation fell through the winter of 2011-12, his fields received no really heavy, soaking rains. As a result, the soil profiles failed to fully fill.
“Because the ground was drier than normal when we went into the spring, the soils dried out real fast,” Anderson says. “Then, we had several hot spells through the summer where we had to irrigate a lot more than usual. It could be that the combination of drier soils and heat caused nut production to drop.
“Or, maybe the trees were taking two years off after two good ones. It’s hard to say why yields have been off.”
Anderson is a partner with Charles Demmer in Ratliff and Demmer Farms near Willows. Their operation includes 600 acres of walnuts and 500 acres of almonds along with 1,500 acres of rice and another 700 acres of ground rotated between alfalfa and various row crops.
2012 production in their 20-year-old Chandler blocks was down the most with in-shell yields of about 5,000 pounds per acre. “Usually, we figure on getting at least 6,000 pounds per acre from those trees, and we’ve had Chandler crops as large as 7,500 pounds per acre. So, we’ve had quite a drop in production the last two years.”
In-shell yields of the 17-year-old Hartleys fell about 1,000 pounds per acre from the typical 5,000 pounds, Anderson adds.
Meat yield of some the Hartleys reached 40 percent. For Chandlers it was a disappointing 45 percent.
Production of younger Howards fared better.
After producing around 4,700 pounds per acre in 2011, in-shell yields in the block of nine-year old Howards declined by 700 pounds in 2012. “That’s not too bad for those trees,” Anderson reports. “However, last year yields of our seven-year-old Howards shot up from 2,500 pounds per acre in 2011 to 3,900 pounds last year.”
In 2005, Anderson planted a test plot of Gillets. Developed by the University of California, this variety leafs out a week or more before Howard or Hartley and has a very low blight score. Last year yields more than doubled from about 1,800 pounds per acre in 2011 to 3,900 pounds.
“We had a huge crop for trees that size,” he says. “The limbs were all hanging down in late summer. Everything about the Gillets last year looked good. They had good size – 95 percent Jumbo, which is really good. Color was good with 94 percent rated light and meat yield was 49 percent.”
In addition, the shells of the Gillet were harder than previous crops, reducing the chance of cracking when run through the huller. “Before planting the trees, we’d heard that the nuts might not seal very well,” Anderson adds. “So, we’ll see if they continue to have tougher shells over the next few years before deciding if we want to plant more.”
The farm’s Nonpareil, Butte and Carmel almonds declined more in the older blocks than the younger ones last season. The most mature trees, some now 16- to 18-years old, have produced about 1,800 to 2,000 pounds per acre. In 2012, yields dropped to the 1,100 to 1,400-pound. The younger blocks, 7 and 12 years old, averaged 1,800 to 1,900 pounds per acre in 2011. In 2012, yields averaged 1,700 to 1,800 pounds per acre. This crop was definitely closer to an average yield for the age of the trees, he notes.
“I thought we had a really good bloom last year,” Anderson says. “The weather was nice and the bees were out. But, for some reason, the nuts didn’t set well.”
This past fall, Anderson sampled orchard soils. It showed potassium levels in some fields to be on the low end of recommended levels. As a result, he treated these blocks with liquid potassium last fall. He’ll follow up with another sprinkler-applied K treatment this spring. He’ll use leaf analysis in June to gauge the impact of the added potassium.
With the cold weather in January, Anderson believes his trees will get enough chilling hours this winter for proper dormancy and flower and leaf bud development in the upcoming season.
Like many other walnut growers the state, Anderson wants to expand production. But, he’s had to alter his plans a bit.
On Jan. 15, he put in an order for grafted trees to plant in the spring of 2015. “I was able to order all the grafted almonds I wanted but was told that I was a year too late for grafted walnuts,” Anderson says. “The nursery was out. So, I had to settle for Paradox seedlings, which I’ll plant in two years and then we’ll graft them. Right now you couldn’t find a grafted walnut to buy if you wanted to.”