In addition, Blain altered his flood irrigation program from watering every row to alternate rows.  Under a two-week regime, one row is flooded on Day 1 while the next row is irrigated on Day 7. About five-acre-feet of water is applied annually.

“The bottom line is all trees receive moisture 24-hours-a-day all summer long,” Blain said.

“This has definitely improved tree health.”

Today, Blain Farms is shifting from flood irrigation to sprinklers to reduce water consumption. About half of the water comes from federal, state, and local surface supplies, plus groundwater pumped from wells with the water depth ranging from 100 feet to 400 feet.

These production changes brought Blain’s pecan operation back to profitability. Now, yields regularly exceed 3,000 pounds per acre. Some Wichita trees produce more than 4,500 pounds per acre. Trees grown in well-drained clay loam soil produces a better pecan crop than sandy soil.

The edible kernel percentage has increased from 59 percent to 62 percent. Alternate bearing has fallen to about 10-percent.

The average tree spacing today is 25-feet down the row and 35-feet between the rows.

“The California pecan industry has really turned around,” Blain said.

Blain harvests pecans twice a season with shakers. He began the 2012 crop harvest in early November. The yields average is about 3,000 pounds per acre.

About 80 percent of the California crop is harvested green in the fall with the balance harvested after the first hard freezes of the year.

About 90 percent of California pecans are shipped to Asia, primarily China.

In 2010, the California pecan industry was valued at about $14 million, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

About 50 growers produce pecans in the Golden State. Acreage is expanding about 10 percent annually.

California pecan prices last year averaged about $3 per pound.

cblake@farmpress.com