Veteran Butte and Glenn Counties almond grower Dan Cummings was expecting Nonpareil production in his Sacramento Valley orchards to be down this year and pollinator production to be up. But, so far he has been surprised.
Based on the light bud this season, he was expecting Nonpareils to set fewer nuts. But, “They set a pretty nice crop,” he says. “The coverage was good throughout the canopy; there weren’t any light zones.” As Capay Farms, Inc., he manages several thousand acres of walnuts and almonds in the Sacramento Valley.
The nut set of the California pollinators appeared particularly promising. “The Aldriches looked especially good,” Cummings says. “They aren’t shedding the crop this year as they sometimes do. Pollinating conditions this year were much better than they’ve been the last few years.”
He attributes the number of nutlets he saw in the earlier varieties to good weather throughout most of the pollination period. But, cool, damp conditions just after pollination limited photosynthesis, and he says that accounts for the light crop he sees in the later hard shell varieties.
“The Missions are off, the Padres are mediocre, and the Buttes are growing nuts — but they won’t all make it. If I just tapped the limbs, nutlets fell off.”
Unlike the past two years when rains forced many growers to apply their bloom sprays from the air, ground rigs did the job this year. Cummings’ orchards are clean of such early-season brown rot, shot hole, scab and rust.
The major insect pests in Sacramento Valley almond orchards — peach twig borer and navel orangeworm — pose a threat starting mid-May. He anticipates more navel orangeworm damage than usual this season, due to the higher numbers of overwintering mummies from the 2011 crop.
“The nuts didn’t shake well last year, because of hull rot and the late harvest,” he says. “We harvested about three weeks later than usual. Even within the same tree, we had green nuts that were just starting to open and other nuts that were very dry. Both types are hard to remove.”
Cummings is hoping for a normal harvest date, accompanied by dry weather for a change. “If, as I expect, our Nonpareils are off 15 percent and our pollinators are up 10 percent, the tonnage in our orchards should be similar to last year.”
The market for his crop looks good. March shipments of California almonds were up 32 percent from a year earlier, and the Almond Board of California has already reported more than 2 billion pounds of 2011 crop receipts to date. That exceeds the official USDA estimate of 1.95 billion pounds.
Cummings and his peers are not surprised. “Almonds are rockin’,” he says. “Our first 1billion pound crop was only 10years ago. Now, we’re moving twice thatmuch just fine, and we’re doing it at higher prices. Prices for 2011 crop almonds have been coming up all year, and the price to the grower for 2012 crop pollinators is currently at $2 a pound. Prices for new crop Nonpareils are around $2.30 to $2.35 per pound. That’s a nice place to start the season.”