Freeze strikes orchard
In Fall 2010, the young pomegranate plants took a direct hit from Mother Nature. The nighttime temperature plummeted to a frigid 15 degrees. The young plants were still in the growth stage.
“The severe frost nipped about 85 percent of the pomegranate foliage to the ground level,” Romney said. “A young pomegranate cannot survive extreme cold temperatures.”
Since then, the pomegranates have rebounded. In early May, Romney said the plants were 5-6 feet tall, and green and lush.
“We have some blooms,” Romney said. “We’re happy with their progress and hope it continues.”
The plants are grown in a sandy clay loam soil. So far, insect and disease issues have not surfaced.
Romney estimates plant water needs this year in the 15-18 inches range, a lower amount compared to some crops. "Good quality” groundwater is delivered to the plants via sub-surface irrigation. A shallow well lifts water from about 110 feet. A deeper well pulls water from about 500 feet.
About 320 trees are planted per acre. The Wonderful spacing is 16-by-8 feet. The Angel Red spacing is 14-by-10 feet.
The plants should achieve commercial production in 2016. Harvest would occur from mid September through October. At full maturity, Romney hopes for a fruit yield in the 10,000-15,000-pounds-per-acre range.
In the short term, the fruit would be harvested by hand. Romney hopes to utilize mechanical harvesting down the road.
There are no immediate plans to plant additional acreage until Turley and Romney determine how the existing planting fares. Adjacent land is available to expand the pomegranate operation.
Romney says most fruit will be sold for the fresh market. He believes the pomegranates could hit the market several days before the California crop.
The Angel Red fruit would be harvested, packed, and sold according to Angel Red specifications. Romney says the Whole Foods grocery store chain has expressed interest in buying future fruit.
Prior to the freeze, a small amount of Wonderful fruit was sold to Texas-based Affiliated Foods.
The pomegranate, Punica granatum, is popular for the arials inside which contain a sweet, tart juice. The distinctive large-red fruit, similar to a large apple, is derived from the Middle French name “pomme garnete” or seeded apple. It is also called a Chinese apple.
A source in the California pomegranate industry says about 90 percent of the California plantings are the Wonderful variety. Fresno County is the state’s largest pomegranate producer. Other counties include Kings, Kern, Merced, and Stanislaus.
The two largest challenges for California pomegranates, the industry source says, are limited water and price competition with other crops. Another challenge is about 80 percent of U.S. consumers have never consumed a pomegranate.