After struggling earlier in the year to stay ahead of constantly changing weather conditions and to complete their field work in-between rains, Tehama County walnut growers are finding the going much easier as the season winds down.
“This is one of the best walnut crops I’ve seen,” says Rick Buchner, University of California Cooperative Extension orchard farm advisor for the county.
Despite the variable spring, the trees hit a wide enough window of favorable conditions to set the nuts, he thinks.
Whatever the explanation, growers are now seeing what appears to be a good size, clean crop of decent quality, and prices remain strong.
“Those things make growers really smile,” he says. “So far, it looks like a good economic year for them.”
Among their best-performing varieties this season have been Chandler, Tulare and Howard.
“We’ve had some nut drop in the Howards,” Buchner says. “It’s a brittle tree and there’s been a lot of limb breakage — but, that goes along with a heavier crop.”
Efforts by growers to control walnut blight have paid off. “Even though the spring weather was conducive to the disease, growers who followed a good spray program achieved good control,” he says.
In some cases, controlling codling moth was a tougher task. Blame that on the continually fluctuating wet and dry and cool and warm weather.
“That makes it hard to get a good reading on what moths are doing,” Buchner says. “As a result, timing the first spray as accurately as you’d like becomes more of a challenge. I’ve seen more coddling moth than I’d prefer, but overall, control has been pretty good.”
At the end of June and first of July, many growers whitewashed their trees to prevent sunburn. Again, wide swings in temperatures added to the challenge. It’s hard for trees to adjust to wide temperature fluctuations, Buchner notes.
“In that situation, if the trees are under any kind of irrigation deficit, the canopy opens a little, leaving the nuts more exposed to the sun. Everybody is wondering if the harvest will be late.”
Sometimes, harvesting the relatively few Ashleys in the county can begin in September. Usually, harvest of the later varieties is well under way by Oct. 1. The goal is to be finished by November 1. Last year, harvesting of the weather-delayed crop extended beyond that date and wasn’t wrapped up until after seasonal rains had begun.