The California almond industry is chock-full of dreamers — those who paved the way toward an all-time record 2-billion-pound crop expected this next crop year, and those who aspire to push yields upwards to 5,000-pounds per acre in the future.

These visions have placed the California almond industry at the top of its game; an industry clearly in the driver’s seat charting its own future course.

“We once believed achieving a 2-billion-pound California almond crop was a distant dream but now it’s a reality,” said Bob Curtis, associate director for ag affairs and production research manager with the Almond Board of California in Modesto, Calif.

“Our industry must grow, sell, and promote California almonds differently than we have in the past. More productivity generates challenges.”

Curtis chaired an almond production workshop entitled, “Growing a 2 billion-pound crop…it’s a game changer,” held during the 2011 Almond Industry Conference in Modesto, Calif., in December.

Curtis says California almond yields have doubled over the last 20 years.

“A good yield has increased from 2,000 kernel pounds per acre in the 1980s to 3,000-plus-pounds per acre today,” Curtis told the standing-room-only crowd. “In the 1980s, a ton of meats at a dollar a pound was happiness; a ton was the gold standard.”

Three veteran almond farm advisors discussed significant research strides achieved over the last three decades which led to higher yields; plus the prospects to one day achieve 5,000-meat-pound yields.

The almond experts included University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Emeritus farm advisors John Edstrom of Colusa County and Mario Viveros of Kern County, plus UCCE IPM entomologist Walt Bentley of Parlier.

Combined, these UCCE specialists have nearly 100 years of experience in the California almond industry.

Edstrom ties monumental yield increases in recent decades to precision irrigation, high-density tree planting, minimum and machine pruning techniques, and soil modification and amendments. Flood-irrigated orchards are no longer the norm.

“There are not too many orchards designed today for flood irrigation,” Edstrom said. “There is not much ‘click-clack-click’ of the aluminum pipe and impact sprinklers around anymore.”

Efficient micro irrigation began in California almonds in the 1960s, but adoption was slow and finally accelerated in the 1980s. Micro irrigation helped reduce water use in drought-prone California and improved water efficacy for trees. A double hose drip system is most common statewide.

“Precise irrigation management starts with evapotranspiration (Etc) as a general guideline but also use probes for soil monitoring, a dendrometer to measure tree growth and irrigation sufficiency, and a pressure chamber to measure tree water stress,” Edstrom said.

Surprisingly, subsurface drip irrigation (SSDI) can be a successful delivery technique in almond orchards, Edstrom says. An estimated 7,000 acres of almond trees are profitably watered with SSDI in the Sacramento Valley.