Almonds in Merced County began blooming mid-February, with Nonpareil and pollinators such as Aldrich, Carmel and Monterey starting things off. By the end of the month Butte and Padre were also flowering.
The bloom started close to the normal, and that surprised many growers, says David Doll, University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor for the county. Because of dry, warmer weather late January and early February, many were looking for an earlier bloom.
“Last year, when we had a lot more rain and cooler temperatures, the bloom started the last week of February and the first week of March, which was later than normal,” Doll says. “The beginning of bloom this year is more in the middle of the usual timing and similar to 2010, when bloom started around Feb. 22.”
By March 1, almond orchards in the country had received only about 40 percent of the normal rainfall for the season.
In January, Doll augered down three feet into sandy soil before hitting moisture — that’s equivalent to a depth of about a foot to reach wet soil in heavier ground, he notes. To help make up for the shortage, some growers began irrigating their orchards in December. Most had begun by mid-January.
Still, availability of adequate water supplies for the new crop hasn’t been a concern to this point. “We had a good wet year last year, and most reservoirs are close to full,” Doll says.”But, irrigation districts will probably hedge their bets and save some water for another dry year.”
Growers began their fungicide bloom sprays in late February, targeting brown rot, shot hole, jacket rot and anthracnose. Due to the dry weather, growers may need to make only one or two applications, depending on their comfort level, he says.
A continuation of this weather pattern, however, could favor growth of insects. Early season insect concerns include spider mites, navel orangeworm and peach twig borer.
“A dry bloom has less disease pressure and more bee flight hours, which are usually indicators for a good crop year,” Doll says.