Near ideal growing conditions and minimal pest problems have combined to start California growers and marketers talking about record 2012 walnut, almond and pistachio crops. It’s getting to be a broken record — one after another for tree nut crops. This includes another 2-billion pound California almond crop.

Pete Jelavich, a walnut producer near Yuba City, Calif., sees “the potential for a record-breaker. I’m fairly confident it will be more than the 2010 level — my guess would be around 520,000 tons.”

“I hesitate to call it excellent in size,” he says “I thought we had a good size crop last year, but it came up short of expectations.” especially for some varieties. So, I’m a little cautious.”

The record now is 502,000 tons for 2010. Last year’s crop came in at 460,000 tons, 8 percent below the existing record.

“Keep in mind,” Jelavich says: “Even though we started with what appeared to be a decent crop, it won’t get any bigger from here on out.”

Central San Joaquin Valley Pest Control Adviser (PCA) Donald Thomas reports little pest pressure from mites and leaffooted plant bugs this season in the tree nut orchards he work.

However, sees the possibility of navel orangeworm numbers building to high levels in some almond orchards now at hull split.

“I think we have potential for a bad year for navel orangeworm (NOW),” he says.

“Mite pressure is a little lighter this season than in the past few years, but they’re still present. You can drive by ranches in the valley and easily see some trees suffering from what appears to be mite stress.”

Thomas now concerns himself with possible high navel orangeworm pressure in both almond and pistachios based on trap counts.

Populations started building early but remained light into May. In most cases, especially in pistachios, the numbers never went down completely to zero for any length of time. “We’d spray and knock the numbers down, but they’d rapidly come back up to an average of 20 eggs per trap a week in some locations.”

As of the second week of July, he was finding navel orangeworm eggs on split hulls in Nonpareil. At the same time, he was also finding eggs and small worms in some pea-sized pistachio splits.

“Depending on where growers are in the central San Joaquin Valley, they probably have navel orangeworm in their trees now,” Thomas says.

600-million pound pistachio crop?

Many industry observers are predicting a record 600-million pound California pistachio crop, but on an individual farm basis it may about average as in Tom Coleman’s pistachio orchards. Coleman Farming Co. in Fresno owns 900 acres of orchards and manages another 3,000 in Madera and Fresno counties. The trees range in age from first leaf to 27 years.

Following a good size crop last year, Coleman says he expects his 2012 production will be no more than average.

“As has been the case for the last several years, there’s a lot of variability among the trees this year,” he says. “Some have a heavy crop, while just a short distance away others have virtually no crop.”

He attributes this to frost damage in low areas of his fields several years ago, which induced an alternate bearing cycle within the orchards.

Last spring he sprayed for botrysphaeria and botrytris in orchards with a history of the fungal diseases; other than that, diseases haven’t been a threat this season.

Arizona pistachio grower Steve Seplak is looking for a bigger crop this season.

“In 2010 we had a bumper crop,” he says. “The trees put all their energy into producing nuts, and that left little for growth last year.”

This season, because of the number of nuts forming, he’s expecting much better from his orchard. “I’m thinking of typical on-year yields, somewhere between 3,000 to 3,500 pounds per acre,” he says.

Seplak who farms in Willcox, Ariz., is a member of the American Pistachio Growers director and president of the Arizona Pistachio Association, owns SAS-Z Nuts.

“The pistachio trees are about a month ahead of normal,” he says.

This year, kernels started the month-long hardening process in mid-June. “The nuts are looking really good,” Seplak says. “So far, we haven’t had much insect activity. Thus far I haven’t seen any damage on the nuts — maybe the weather has been too dry and the bugs haven’t hatched out yet.”