Ben Wilson, Kern County, Calif. almond grower, is beginning to get an idea of how this year’s crop is shaping up.
Based on what he was seeing this early, the Nonpareil crop at Handel and Wilson Farms, Shafter, Calif., could be down a bit from last year’s good production levels, he says. But, he is encouraged by the early-season performance of his pollinators: Aldrich, Carmel, Fritz, Monterey, Butte and Padre.
“The Nonpareil bloom was disappointing,” he says. “The blooms were there, but they weren’t as thick as they could have been. However, the pollinators right next to the Nonpareil had a fantastic bloom. There was a striking difference between the pure, white look of the pollinator trees and the Nonpareil trees, which weren’t nearly as brilliant.”
Wilson attributes much of the promising nut set on the pollinators to good weather for bee activity at the right time. He’s particularly impressed by his Montereys. “They could produce a fantastic crop this year,” he says.
The trees lost some nuts to freezing temperatures and winds in early March. “The frost was spotty, but based on the number of nuts on the ground, it caused more damage than we thought initially. Still, we didn’t suffer anything like some others did. One grower, about 15 to 20 miles from us, thinks he might have lost half his crop to frost.”
“The number of nuts on the ground looks disturbing in those areas,” Wilson says. “But, when I look up into the trees, I still see an awful lot of nuts. In the final analysis, we may not notice any significant impact on production at harvest.”
Although welcome, late spring rains haven’t yet made up for the lack of rain and snow during an extremely dry winter, Wilson notes. He expects his local irrigation district to limit water allocations this season to just 26 percent of normal. “If we keep getting rains, maybe the allotment won’t be decreased any further,” he says.
After applying fungicides during early bloom and again after petal fall, he hasn’t seen any signs of brown rot or shothole. Because of dry weather in early bloom he didn’t treat one block. “Based on that, we might not have needed any fungicides,” he says. “But, it’s better to protect yourself as best you can.”
Bloom sprays also included phosphorus and potassium along with boron and zinc.
Diseases annually don’t pose a major threat to Handel and Wilson Farms’ almond orchards. However, alternaria is becoming an increasing concern. He has been able to stay on top of it with spot treatments.
“Other farmers in the area have had a history of alternaria problems and have really been fighting it,” he says. “We’ve been fairly unscathed by the disease until last year, when we had a lot of alternaria in areas of some blocks where we hadn’t had problems before. Learning how to control what is becoming a significant problem is new territory for us.”
Wilson is also on the alert to keep rust from getting out of hand. Last year, the diseases caused a little defoliation in one block.