Heavy rains and strong, gusty winds in mid-January coupled with wet ground caused some almond trees to topple in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

The damage in Sutter County was considerably less than occurred from the big storm two years earlier, when winds were much stronger, says University of California Extension Farm Advisor Joe Connell. This time some trees went down, but there were no widespread losses.

The winds also knocked over almond trees near Shafter in Kern County. West of there, Starrh Farms has 4,000 acres of almonds, and increased tree density in the orchards has reduced losses from winds while increasing production, says Fred Starrh.

About 15 years ago, in an attempt to reduce wind losses, he switched from planting trees 24 feet apart within rows and 24 feet between rows (91 trees per acre) to a 24 x 20–foot spacing. When that didn’t make much difference, he then began planting trees 12 feet apart within rows and 20-feet apart between rows. That resulted in 180 trees per acre. Now, new trees are being planted in a 14 x 20-foot spacing, or 155 trees per acre. This has reduced planting costs a little, compared to the 180-tree per acre density, without having much impact on production, Starr notes.

“When trees are planted close together, the wind can’t really get in and around them individually,” he says. “It’s a better situation for us. We’ve noticed very little wind damage with the thicker plantings and we’re getting a little more production.”