Harvesting of Chris Hurd’s 1,000 acres of almonds on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley near Firebaugh, Calif., began with Nonpareils Aug. 22 — about 10 days later than normal.

By Sept.1, Hurd told the Western Farm Press e-newsletter Tree Nut Farm Press that all the almonds had been loaded and crews had moved into his Padre fields. He began shaking the first of his Circle G Farms’ pollinators, Carmel, Labor Day week. The pollinators aren’t quite as late as his Nonpareils, Hurd says.

The schedule called for shaking Butte trees, the last of his hardshells, the second full week of September. The following week, he expected to start on his remaining two California varieties, Woods Colony and Monterey.

“Yields are above average, but nut sizes look substantially smaller than usual,” he says. “A lot of the early reports I’m hearing are similar. We haven’t had any shortage of water or fertilizer this year, so I’m attributing the smaller size to the cool, wet spring.”

If you would like to read more of Chris’ comments about the 2011 San Joaquin Valley almond crop, go to http://enews.penton.com/enews/farmpress/treenutfarmpress/current where you can see the most recent issues of Tree Nut Farm Press and subscribe to the free e-newsletter that is emailed twice monthly through the growing season. It is sponsored by Cheminova.

Lake County’s walnuts

Alex Suchan, owner of Suchan Farm and Nursery, based at Upper Lake, Calif., grows 100 acres of Chandler, Hartley, Howard and Pedro varieties of his own, and manages another 50 acres of walnut trees for other orchard owners.

The veteran grower with 59 seasons under his belt told Tree Nut Farm Press, the 2011 weather has conspired against the county’s walnut growers this season, he says. “The crop isn’t real good this year.” Normally, walnuts in his area bloom around April 10-15, but this year, cool weather set development back several weeks when frost hit the orchards as the trees were beginning to bloom. He estimates that cut production by 25 percent.

Then, there was the rain — so far this year, orchards have received about 15 inches more than the normal annual total of 32 inches, Suchan says. A fair amount fell during bloom, interfering with pollination and depressing nut yields even more.

“Although some orchards are doing pretty well, for the county as a whole the crop will be very light this year,” he told Tree Nut Farm Press.

In 2009, county growers accounted for 4,124 acres of the state’s total 255,000 aces of walnut trees.

The 2011 California Walnut Objective Measurement Report, released Sept. 2 by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, forecasts a 485,000-ton crop for the state this year. That’s 4 percent smaller than last year’s production of 503,000 tons, but if realized, it would be the second largest California crop ever.

Although it’s too early to gauge the quality of their crop, one thing Lake County growers traditionally have going for them is the color of their walnuts. The higher elevation, 1,345 feet at Upper Lake, means cooler summer temperatures and a better quality nut than in California’s Central Valley, where the bulk of the state’s walnuts are grown.

New Mexico pistachio harvests starts early

In the third week of August, while pistachio growers in Arizona and California were still waiting for their slow-to-mature crop to ripen, in New Mexico, near Alamogordo, Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves’s two shakers had already begun harvesting nuts — two weeks earlier than usual.

“It’s a good harvest, and the nuts have turned out well,” says Marianne Schweers. She and her husband, George, own and manage 85 acres of pistachios.

They also have their own on-farm facilities to hull, dry, roast, salt and package the nuts, mostly for retail sales.

“An earlier harvest is always better for us,” she says. “Getting a two-week head start on the holiday season is absolutely a blessing.”

California pecan crop promising

Nuts in Brian Blain’s California Tulare and Kern county pecan orchards were completing the month-long process of sizing at the end of August.

“We’re just in the early stages of shell hardening,” he says. “That’s about two weeks later than normal, and about the same time as nuts finished sizing in 2010, which was our latest crop ever. This is going to be another really late crop.”

Blain expects the San Joaquin Valley harvest to start the first or second week of November. That late start probably won’t affect growers there too much, he notes, but it could be a concern for those in the Sacramento Valley where rainy weather is more likely.

“A delayed crop puts a lot of pressure on them,” he says. “If they get an early winter, they could have problems getting all the nuts off before the ground in the orchards gets too wet to.”

Meanwhile, his pecan crop is developing well, even though production during this off-year appears to be down a little from 2010.

“In terms of crop size, some trees look really good,” Blain says. “For others, the crop looks a little off. The crop is kind of spotty.”

At the end of August he talked with a number of growers at the California Pecan Growers conference. “Most are saying the same thing, but at this point, nut size looks really good.”

Tree health is encouraging, too. “That’s half the battle,” Blain says. “If trees are healthy, with good vigor and no insect problems, as they have been this year, there’s really no reason why nuts won’t fill properly and we’ll have a good quality crop.”

Read more of what Schweers, Blain and Suchan have to say about their walnut, pistachio and pecan crop crops this year in the archives of Tree Nut Farm Press at http://enews.penton.com/enews/farmpress/treenutfarmpress/current where you can see the most recent issues of Tree Nut Farm Press and subscribe to the free e-newsletter that is emailed twice monthly through the growing season.