What is in this article?:
- Schafer family spread risks with four major California crops
- Dozen wine grape varieties
- Minimizing irrigation costs
- Marketeing the crop
- Over the past three decades, Steve Schafer and his brother, Mike, have combined individual skills, talents and interests to expand their Madera County, Calif., family farm into an enterprise that now encompasses 1,700 acres of almonds, 2,100 acres of wine and raisin grapes and 120 acres of pomegranates. That includes orchards and vineyards they manage for others.
Minimizing irrigation costs
To minimize irrigation costs, the Schafers irrigate their orchards and vineyards with either microsprinklers or double-line drip systems. The double-line drip systems are used in orchards which can be flooded prior to harvest to harden the floor and minimize the amount of dust generated by harvesting activities.
In addition to Nonpareil, the Schafer’s almond varieties include Aldrich, Butte, Carmel, Monterey, Padre and Sonora varieties. Almonds production tends to drop the year after a large crop. To reduce such variations, Mike strives to supply the trees with optimal levels of nutrients throughout the season. “If the tree isn’t lacking for food, it should be healthy and strong and able to hold whatever crop it pollinates,” he says.
Based on results of petiole analysis in the spring, mid-summer and during harvest, he gives the trees all the fertilizer they need, when they need it, but no more.
“The trees are responding by producing new growth each year, which means new buds and new fruit wood and that is helping to maintain a more consistent crop size from one year to the next,” he says.
On-farm storage for three semi-truck loads of liquid fertilizer allows him to buy supplies ahead of any expected price increases.
Like many of California’s almond growers, the Schafers harvested a nice 2011 crop. “We had about a 3,000-pound crop over all our varieties, and the quality of the nuts was outstanding,” Mike says. Their Nonpareil yields were up over last year. They averaged about 3,200 pounds per acre, ranging from 2,600 to 3,800 pounds. Average yields of the pollinators were closer to 3,400 pounds, he reports.
“Some of our Monterey yields weren’t as good as last year but our Aldrich and Butte varieties did very well,” Mike adds. “In one field, they produced 4,800 pounds per acre.”
As he’s done for a number of years, Mike plans to market about half of this season’s production through a yearly pool. Under this arrangement, a processor finds buyers for the Schafer’s almonds. The processor makes all the selling decisions and growers receive several payments for their crop over the course of the marketing year, which ends on July 31.