When you’re growing a crop like almonds, in which an orchard can take at least three years after planting to produce its first marketable crop and can remain productive for another 20 years or more, you’re in business for the long haul.

That’s why Stanislaus County almond grower Chuck Dirkse has adopted a wide range of production practices – such as targeted application of water, pesticides and crop nutrients and enhancing habitat in the orchards to attract predator-controlling animals – designed to improve the long-term sustainability and productivity of his family’s farming operation.

“We’re dependent on a healthy environment as well as favorable economic conditions,” Dirkse says. “We aren’t an organic farming operation. But, we believe it’s important to care for the environment. Incorporating sustainable farming practices into our daily routines helps protect both the environment and our profitability.”

The family-owned La Mancha Orchards features 310 acres of almonds growing on two ranches near Denair, Calif., In addition to Nonpareil the varieties include Avalon, Carmel, Fritz, Monterey and Wood Colony. The trees range in from 9 and 10 years of age to 25 and older.

Production numbers

Last year, Dirkse harvested his second largest crop ever.  That’s despite the unusually heavy pressure from navel orangeworm that he and other California almond growers experienced.

However, kernel size was smaller than usual. In fact, warm spring temperatures stunted nut development, resulting in some of the industry’s smallest kernels in four decades.

 

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Dirkse reports that turnout or nut meat percentage of his Nonpariel, the industry’s bread-and-butter variety, was down from 2011. That’s when a long, extended bloom and unusually vigorous bees contributed to a record size crop for La Mancha Orchards.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the trees so completely full of blossoms as they were that year,” Dirkse recalls.

In 2011, yields of 8th leaf Wood Colony trees, one of his two blocks of that variety, topped 4,200 meat pounds per acre. Meanwhile, his top-performing Nonpareils that year, a block of 8th leaf trees, yielded an average of around 3,500 pounds of nutmeats per acre.

Typically, La Mancha Orchards produces slightly under a million pounds of almond nutmeats annually.

Dirkse was a member of the first class to participate in the Almond Board of California’s Almond Industry Leadership Program in 2009. This one-year program encourages individuals within the almond industry to participate in leadership training and to take a leadership role in the future of the industry. Now, he’s serving in his second year as a mentor for that program.  “It’s a fulfilling way to give back the kind of help that was given to me,” he says.