Based on the performance of his walnut trees to this point in the season, Sutter County, Calif., grower Sib Fedora is optimistic that the 2012 crop will be better than last year.
Production in 2011 was down 14 percent from what he had expected going into the harvest. The 2011 harvest reflected cold, wet spring weather, which delayed and hindered nut development.
“We had some quality issues due to a little more mold and mildew than anticipated, and edible yields weren’t as high as usual,” he says.
This year, however, what he’s seeing is more encouraging. “Things are looking better than average — the crop is going to be earlier than last year.”
Unlike the three-weeks late, split bloom of 2011, weather this year produced a uniform bloom and plenty of pollen, Fedora says.
“Our early varieties, Serrs and Tehama, are much stronger than last year. Chandlers and Howards, which are later varieties, are definitely strong — nuts are sizing now and, I don’t see any quality problems. But, heat and insects could still be a problem in the warm summer months.”
He farms 600 acres of walnuts with his two sons, Brian and Chris, near Meridian, Calif.
Not surprisingly, spring rains prompted him to spray his trees to control walnut blight, with the first application in March and each time it rained thereafter.
Fedora put out codling moth traps in April, and the first week of May began trapping as many as 35 moths in a 24-hour period. He sprayed then to protect from damage and is monitoring traps weekly. “If you aren’t proactive during codling moth infestations, you may suffer some costly damage,” he says.
At the end of May, he boosted soil potassium by applying liquid potassium with his sprinklers. This was based on leaf analysis testing last June; he combines this annual tissue sampling with soil testing, which he does every two or three years.
“Leaf analysis gives us a really good indication of nutrient status on a tree-by-tree basis,” Fedora says. “But, there’s a time lag between nutrient levels in the leaves and those in the soils. Soil samples will reveal any deficiency immediately and gives us a little different view of what’s going on in our orchard. For example, a soil analysis will show whether or not we have enough nutrients to get trees through the year. We don’t get that with a leaf analysis.”
Fedora will apply a sunburn preventive application late this month to protect nuts not shielded by the leaf canopy. If necessary, a second application may be required seven to 10 days later.
“We’re starting to do more of this because we have more later varieties, and they’re a little more susceptible to sunburn,” he says. “Protecting young nuts in June allows us to deliver a better quality product to the market in September and October.”