“I don’t see a great crop for us this year,” Mike says. “The Nonpareil bloom wasn’t as good as it could have been. There’s a lot of bare wood out there. Because of the good weather during bloom, I’ve got a feeling that, in our case, we’ll have a really nice crop. It just won’t be a phenomenal one.”

Last year, his almond yields ranged from 2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds per acre, depending on the block. This year, Mike expects his trees to produce better than 2,500 pounds but less than 3,000 pounds per acre this year.

Just before the one rain fell during this year’s bloom on March 7, he used a ground rig to spray every other row with fertilizers plus a fungicide to protect against brown rot. The nutrients were a blend of zinc, calcium, boron, nitrogen, phosphorus and humic acid. Starting with orchards showing the most leaf surface and progressing to those with the last trees to bloom, it took five days to complete the treatment.

Mike plans to wait for more leaves to push before coming back with another foliar application of nutrients and, if necessary, fungicide to treat the remaining rows.

His sprayer applies 60 gallons of solution per acre. “Because there’s not much foliage to restrict the spray pattern at this time of the year, I can get about 85 percent to 90 percent coverage of the trees using my ground rig to spray every other row,” Mike says. “That’s much better than aerial applications, which usually put on no more than 20 gallons per acre.”

He uses this same alternate-row approach when spraying his trees at hull split.

While the bloom was ending, Mike’s crew was following up a post-harvest spray of contact herbicides to clean up grasses and other weeds in the row middles and berms with a second post-emergent herbicide application.  Bare ground helps with frost protection, if necessary.

“After planting trees in a fresh field, it takes a while to get all the weeds killed,” he says. “By the time the orchards are seven or eight years old, they’re mostly weed-free. I don’t spray much Roundup in the summer. Once the trees start shading in, the weeds don’t grow. I like clean fields.”

However, Mike doesn’t like the news he’s getting about cutbacks in surface water deliveries this year. Most of California’s key storage reservoirs were above or near historic levels in early March due to November and December storms. However, in early March water content in the mountain snowpack – which normally provides about a third of the water for California’s farms and communities – was well below normal.

Surface water for irrigating the Schafer Ranch is provided by the Madera Irrigation District. The district delivered water for111 days last year. This year Mike expects to receive surface water for no more than six to seven weeks. He’ll make up the rest with groundwater.

“Right now we don’t have a problem getting groundwater,” Mike says. “But, the situation is still serious, because the water table is dropping about five feet a year. We’re probably five to eight years from being at the bottom of our oldest wells before we’ll have to do something to get more water.”

This report on the almond bloom is from Tree Nut Farm Press, a twice-monthly electronic newsletter published by Farm Press during the growing season. If you would like to receive Tree Nut Farm Press go to the bottom right of this page and sign up for it and other Farm Press electronic newsletters.

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