A series of Pacific storms has dramatically impacted the crop set on early and mid season almond varieties in California. However, there is still time to set a good crop on Nonpareils and late blooming varieties.

That is the early March observations from University of California farm advisors throughout the state about California's 500,000 acres of almonds.

California almond handlers were hoping for a third consecutive huge almond crop to meet continually growing worldwide demand. Grower prices were expected to remain high for 2004 because of that demand. Now grower prices for this crop could go even higher.

Yields from individual orchards and varieties have been impacted by storms that dumped rain and cold weather on a rapidly blooming almond crop, according to the farm advisors.

While high winds did topple some trees, the biggest impact has been that essential crop setting honeybees have stayed in their hives because of the cold, wet weather and away from pollinating awaiting blooms

The $64 question is will be expanded acreage be enough to give the state its third consecutive billion pound crop even though individual orchard yields likely will be down?

Yolo County farm advisor Wilbur Reil reports many growers have used helicopters to apply fungicides between storms. At best, aerial fungicide applications provide “fair, but not excellent protection,” said Reil. However, that is the only alternative growers had because it was too wet to use ground rigs.

“I expect growers who have a history of disease in the past will have serious problems whereas growers who have not had much problem will be OK. Low inoculum levels at the start of the season will give the good growers a leg up on control,” said Reil.

Although the storm precluded setting a good crop for the early blooming and mid-season varieties in Reil's area, there was still time to set a good crop on Nonpareils and late blooming varieties, especially in young orchards on peach rootstock.

Butte County farm advisor Joe Connell reports that the bloom came on very rapidly in the Chico area.

This has been called the year of the “flash bloom.”

“It started late, but then the overlap between the early and late varieties was very good,” said Connell. However, wind, rain and cool conditions have impacted crop set. “It is hard to say how much at this time,” said Connell.

“In this area growers are used to some rain during bloom and I think our fungicide programs are pretty well in place. I have no had reports of disease outbreaks yet,” said Connell.

“The first week of bloom is the most critical and most of that first week was stormy,” said Merced County farm advisor Maxwell Norton.

“I think the crop will be reduced.

Fresno County farm advisor Mark Freeman said the crop has been impacted, but it is too early to determine how much.

There is no question bloom conditions have not been as good as 2002 and 2003, said Freeman. Those two seasons saw back to back 1 billion pound crops.

Like Connell, Freeman has seen a desirable bloom overlap between varieties, which enhanced bee pollination.

While the weather has been cold and wet, it has not been too cold. With temperatures in the 50s and 60s, flowers stay viable longer than they would if temperatures were in the 40s or 70 degrees and above. That longer viability allowed bee pollination during times when weather conditions between storms were suitable for bee flights.

“I don't think it is time to panic yet. There are still a lot of flowers out there. We do not want to set all flowers anyway because the trees could not handle that,” noted Freeman. “I don't think it is as bad as it looks.”

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