Sacramento Valley tree nut grower Dan Cummings expects the 2013 almond crop in his part of the state to be more above average than the one now developing in the San Joaquin Valley. Specifically, he looks for Sacramento Valley growers to produce about 10 percent to 15 percent more almonds this year than last year.

The CEO of Capay Farms, Inc., Orland, Calif., Cummings bases that assessment on what he’s seeing in his 6,000 acres of almonds and on what he’s hearing from growers statewide.

Almond orchards in the Sacramento Valley escaped much of the 100-degree-plus weather experienced in the almond-growing area of the San Joaquin Valley last year. NorCal growers were able to better meet the water demands of their trees last summer and fall, resulting in a better bloom this spring, he says. Sacramento Valley growers also enjoyed favorable weather this spring.

“Often we don’t get the good weather for pollination that growers farther south have,” Cummings says. “This year, as in the San Joaquin Valley, the weather during pollination was about as good you can get. So, combine that with a better bloom and almond production in the Sacramento Valley should be better relative to its average than the rest of the state.”

By the second week of June his almonds were maturing about a week to 10 days earlier than normal and about three weeks sooner than last year. Cummings expects hull split to start July 1, a week earlier. And, he’s preparing for the possibility of one of his earliest harvest starts ever, starting about Aug. 5. That would be about five to seven days earlier than usual and almost two weeks ahead of last year.

This spring’s drying winds have helped minimize development of diseases such as alternaria, rust and scab in his orchards.

Cummings’ trees had some brown almond mite pressure earlier, but mite pressure is not a problem now. The leaffooted plant bug has shown up in a few orchards. However, the bugs appeared after shells had hardened enough that they weren’t susceptible to damage from the feeding adults.

However, the threat to his orchards this year from the navel orangeworm (NOW) is a different story. “It’s particularly worrisome,” Cummings says. “Last year, we had more navel orangeworm damage than we’ve experienced in a long while and a lot of nuts in the Fritz, Butte, Winters and Sonora blocks didn’t come off clean, leaving a lot of mummies. So, I suspect the worm populations will really build up this year. Because of all the acreage we’ll have to treat, we’re already committed to doing two hull split sprays. I can’t remember the last time we did that on all the almond acreage.”

Bullish prices

Despite his concerns about NOW, Cummings is optimistic about the prospects for this year’s almond crop. The 2012 crop carryout could fall short of year end demand, he notes. “That’s very bullish for prices for this year’s crop,” Cummings says. “Although prices for 2013 almonds currently are below 2012 level, they’re holding in there pretty well. All in all, this should be a good year for almond growers.”

The early outlook for his two walnut varieties – Howard and Chandler – is less clear. Winds up to 30 to 40 miles per hour on almost a daily basis in April didn’t help his crop.

“I don’t remember an April with winds like we had this year,” Cummings says. “They sucked the moisture out of the trees. At the same time, we were afraid to irrigate the fields for fear that the trees would blow over.”

Those winds dried out the blossoms from a bloom that wasn’t that strong to begin with, he adds. That hurt the nut set. As a result, he says, his walnut production this year could be off as much as 15 percent from last year.

His walnuts are maturing about a week earlier than normal. The nuts have reached full size, and the kernels are starting to solidify, Cummings notes.

The dry weather this spring has made for low blight pressure in his walnut orchards and so far insect activity has been low, too. Codling moth, however, could be problematic.

“In view of the high navel orangeworm pressure, we’re being extra careful in controlling the codling moth to minimize their feeding sites and limit the ports of entry into the walnuts for the navel orangeworm,” he says.

Like other Sacramento Valley growers, Cummings expects to receive 75 percent of his allocation of surface water for his orchards this year. However, with water tables continuing to drop, he’s paying extra attention this season to several of his wells that have gone dry in the past. “So far, so good,” Cummings says. “But, between the water situation, the insect pressure and the threat of sunburn to the crop, there’s still a lot of summer left before we get the crop in.”

He’s looking forward to receiving attractive prices for his walnuts. “There’s a tremendous demand for walnuts,” he says. “Buyers have been beating down the doors for the last three years, and prices are awesome. Currently, walnuts are netting over $1.50 per pound in-shell. That’s one heck of a price. If California’s walnut production is off a bit this year, prices should remain strong for this year’s crop.”

This report is from Tree Nut Farm Press, a twice-monthly electronic newsletter published by Western Farm Press during the growing season. This edition was sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection.  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.

 

More from Western Farm Press

Farmland values still climbing, but pace slows

What a grocery store without honey bees looks like

EPA’s Pinocchio nose grows with farmer privacy scandal

5 lessons from the Honeygate scandal

Buyers out in force for 2013 coastal varieties

Wine grape drone flying over California vineyards