After swelling during the first week of spring, buds on Fresno County grower Dennis Wilt’s Chandler walnuts started popping open the following weekend.  That was at least 10 days ahead of last year.

He attributes the early leafing to unseasonably high March temperatures. “The weather has been unbelievable warm,” says Wilt, who also grows almonds and raisin grapes on his D&J Farms near Biola, Calif. “Daytime March highs in the mid-60s is normal. They reached the mid-80s this year,” he says. “If the weather holds, the trees should be blooming by the second or third week of April.

March also ended as one of the driest on record. “I don’t think we got more than a quarter-inch of rain all month,” he says. “Both the snowpack and rainfall this winter are running about half of normal.”

His water district will deliver water from April 15 through July this year. After that, he’ll be pumping groundwater. During that period he expects to irrigate three times. Last year, he had to turn on his pumps for only one late-season irrigation.

All the pumping expected this season could lower the water table, and this could be a problem for growers who don’t have deep wells. “I’ve talked with several farmers whose wells are now sucking air. They’ll have to drill new wells or lower the bowls on their existing wells,”

Wilt planted his first 20 acres of walnuts 11 years ago.  They replaced apples.

“One of the best decisions I’ve made as a farmer was to get walnuts in the ground,” he says. “They’ve been pretty easy to take care of, and they’ve done a lot better than I thought they would.”

Two years ago he planted 24 more acres of Chandlers. He expects them to produce 400 to 500 pounds of walnuts next year and at least double that the following year.

In late February, Wilt sprayed an insecticide on his dormant walnut trees following an application last August to treat for San Jose scale, which he discovered in a small pocket last summer.  “I was surprised to find scale, since we’re pretty isolated from other walnut orchards,” he says. “Only about 30 trees were affected. So, in terms of the big picture, the problem didn’t amount to much.”

In May, he’ll set out traps to monitor summer walnut husk fly egg-laying and to determine if an insecticide spray is needed for control. Last year, he treated a moderate threat in mid-July. That’s only the second time since he started he started growing walnuts that he’s had to control this insect pest.

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 Valent USA.  If would like to receive Tree Nut Farm Press go to the Western Farm Press home page (westernfarmpress.com) and sign up for TNFP and other Farm Press electronic newsletters.

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