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, all the nuts 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 calls for shaking Butte trees, the last of his hardshells, the second full week of September. The following week, he expects 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.”
The weather may also explain his only disease problem this season, Hurd says — a little rust showed up in just one or two blocks, which he was able to control. Insects haven’t bothered his almonds, either.
“We did our normal miticide applications in the spring, and they held pretty well,” he says. “Navel orangeworm trapping has been light, and our treatments have been effective.”
The reason for the low insect pressure this year? “That’s the $64 question,” he says. “I don’t know.”
In some years, Hurd can dry his almonds on the orchard floor to 5 percent moisture for picking up in about six or seven days. This year, that’s requiring more time.
“The first nuts are taking a full 10 days to dry down,” he says. “That’s a function of them being green. But, the weather has been open and temperatures in the mid-90s, which is good.”
Earlier this season, he and other growers were concerned about the statewide California almond crop objective forecast by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service of 1.95 billion meat pounds for the 2011–12 crop year. That included a projected average yield of 2,600 pounds per acre, which would be a record high and 200 pounds per acre (8 percent) more than the previous record yield set in 2008.
“There was a lot of apprehension about what that level of production would do to prices,” he says. “But, the market hasn’t reacted wildly, and seems to be waiting to see how the harvest goes. Things are coming along OK in my world.”
That assessment includes the way he managed his almond trees this year.
“As cold as the weather was this spring, we had to play to Mother Nature. There’s nothing I would have done differently.”