The D word – drought – slipped into more than a few presentations at this year’s Statewide Pistachio Day and also spilled into conversations among exhibitors outside the room where more than 500 gathered in Visalia.

It came up during a discussion of what a researcher called California’s worst navel orange worm infestation ever last year.

It was first broached by the event’s opening speaker, Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Cox, who welcomed participants and told them the county will stop watering parks, lawns and planters because of the drought.

“We’re going to do our part to save as much water as we can (and) give you, the farmers, the water you need to grow your crops,” Cox said.

One presenter said lower weed growth as a result of the drought may actually be beneficial at keeping some pest populations down. But some of those pests may move into the orchards from the foothills sooner this year, he warned.

 

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Richard Matoian, executive director of the American Pistachio Growers based in Fresno, said the lack of water “will throw out conventional thinking” in the industry and will make estimating the size of the crop “nearly impossible.”

“Less water will probably mean smaller nuts,” he said, adding that growers will have to grapple with issues that include water delivery, water quality and financing. Pistachios do require less water than almonds, he conceded, “but we need water.”

Bob Klein, manager of the California Pistachio Research Board, said the drought has brought more dust and stagnant air, further heightening the concerns over regulation of air quality and levels of particulate matter in the range of 10 and 2.5 microns.

“We can expect surcharges on fuel and diesel engine regulations,” Klein said.

Klein urged growers to join coalitions that have formed to deal with regulations imposed by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. “Keep your eyes on the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition,” he said, adding that growers should work on “nitrogen budgets” to address a problem of nitrates in drinking water and “to keep water in the root zone.”

Perhaps the darkest outlook for the industry came in a presentation by Joel Siegel with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Parlier. At last year’s conference, he referred to 2012 as a “blowup year” for navel orange worm despite a record high crop exceeding 555 million pounds.

Last year was even worse, he said. “This (2013) was the worst year ever,” Siegel said.