It’s been a very dry year in southeastern Arizona where Steve Seplak grows 20 acres of pistachios near Willcox.
“Precipitation? What’s that?” responds the Cochise County grower, when asked about the last time it rained.
Seplak can be forgiven for the memory lapse, given the meager .55 of an inch of rainfall he has measured for the first six months of this year.
“I don’t remember the last time it’s been so dry here,” says Seplak, a director of American Pistachio Growers and president of the Arizona Pistachio Association.
Strong winds and high temperatures have compounded the parching effect of the rainless weather.
Winds of up to 35 miles per hours have begun blowing shortly after noon each day, continuing until 10 in the evening since Mid-May, he notes. What’s more, daytime temperatures have peaked well above 100 degrees for the past month. Seplak compares conditions to a blast furnace.
He usually starts irrigating in mid-April. “This year our micro-sprinklers have been running 24/7 since the first of March,” he says. “With less than 10 percent humidity, the water disappears real fast. We’re running about 100 gallons of water a minute and can just barely keep up with the needs of the trees.”
However, with a stable water table in his wells pumping from 390 feet, he’s not concerned about running out water, at least for now.
Like his fellow growers, he’s hoping the upcoming monsoon season brings some relief. Between mid-July and mid-September these storms typically provide about two-thirds of the region’s annual total rainfall of about 9 inches. Last year monsoons totaled 6.25 inches of moisture, Seplak reports.
Fortunately, 18- to 19-year old trees are faring well. “For all the drought, the trees look good, with a nice color to the leaves,” he says. “And, the nut set indicates a pretty good crop, even for an off year like this one.”
Last season, except for four acres of production he lost to frost, his pistachio yields averaged about 3,000 pounds per acre. Seplak hopes to bring in about 2,500 pounds from his 2013 crop in late September.
This report is from Tree Nut Farm Press, a twice-monthly electronic newsletter published by Western Farm Press during the growing season. If would like to receive Tree Nut Farm Press go to the Western Farm Press home page (westernfarmpress.com) and sign up for it and other Farm Press electronic newsletters.
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