California’s almond harvest has begun, and although this season’s unusually cool spring delayed shaking by 7 to 10 days, Central Valley PCA Eli Akel says the wait could boost nut quality.

But while the delay may have helped nut quality, he says, “If harvest is delayed too long, especially in the northern counties, it increases the risk of crop damage from wet weather.”

Akel’s AG Consulting, Clovis, Calif., works with farmers in Madera, Fresno and Kings counties. By the last week of July, he says, hull split ranged from a low of about 20 percent to 30 percent in the Madera area to as much as 80 percent on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley.

“Overall, the quality of the nuts is really decent, especially for Nonpareil, in view of what appears to be a smaller-than-normal crop,” Akel says. “Nonpareil has a tendency to compensate somewhat for fewer nuts by producing larger ones — with a lighter crop, the tree has more vigor to develop better nuts. The size and shape of the nuts this year is quite appealing.”

Akel opened several hundred nuts at the end of July. “The beautiful Nonpareil color was proportional to the nut size and plumpness.”

He cites a cool spring and “progressive growing conditions.” The cool weather also affected the May flight of various moths, including navel orangeworm (NOW), he says. Instead of numbers peaking at the top of a normal bell-shaped curve, the distribution of the NOW moths was extended over a longer period, without much of a single high point. Akel timed hull sprays for the customary peak overall field conditions, but he some worm strikes along the orchard perimeters. Orchard edges typically are the first to hull split, and as a result, some worms escaped the spray by burrowing deep inside the nuts

Weather also affected spider mite control, Akel says. “We applied the mite treatment in May, but apparently due to some hot weather in July and healthy tree proliferation, we got a little more pressure than we’ve experienced in the past. Most of the mite population was along the new growth or lateral proliferation apices. By the end of July, mites began attacking tree tops in mature orchards. Re-treatment was warranted on selective fields.”