California’s almond orchards have been thirsty for a while in a drought that threatens to lower yields.

But they are not alone. The bees that pollinate them also found water in short supply this year, according to a beekeeper who spoke at a field day in Fresno on challenges facing growers this year.

The dozens who gathered at the event — including growers, pest control advisors and others — heard strategies for stretching water supplies and ways to keep those bees healthy and active in developing the nut crop with a value in the billions of dollars.

 

 

Stress on trees could add fuel to pest problems from critters that include spider mites, said Walt Bentley, emeritus entomologist with the University of California. And, he warned, spraying for other pests such as the Navel Orange Worm could cut down on predators for the mites and cause mite populations to increase.

Videos of presentations at the field day will be posted on the website www.sustainablecotton.org. The San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project sponsored the event.

Bentley said leaf footed plant bugs can cause damage to almonds with thin husks and pointed out that one grower brought him a tub full of thousands of the pests. He said the Fritz and Sonora varieties are especially vulnerable.

The pest can over-winter in neighboring crops and then migrate into orchards. Bentley said growers or pest control advisors should look for a distinctive thin curlicue, like a little pig tail, on the surface of the nut.

“That’s easier to find than the insect,” he said. Or a broomstick can be used to rap on the tree, causing insects to drop or zoom away. Bentley said May sprays may be in order, but that could trigger a higher mite population. He recommends using a miticide as well.

 

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Particularly vulnerable, he said are orchards near pomegranates or pistachios.

Bentley said the Navel Orange Worm is especially problematic when mummies are left on trees. “They’re the Achilles heel,” he said.

To combat the NOW pest, he said it is important to be sure sprays reach the tops of trees and to drive slowly through the orchard.

“If you’re not driving under 2.5 miles per hour, you’re wasting your money,” chimed in David Doll, UC pomology farm advisor for Merced County.

“I know people hate going slow,” Doll said.