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- Almonds, rice and walnuts have formed the basis of an enduring partnership between Gary Anderson and Charles Demmer, Willows, Calif. Their Glenn County farm is located in part of the area of natural flatlands, which straddle the Sacramento River in northern California, and has proven to be a productive and profitable environment for a three-crop combination.
- Together, these partners grow some 1,500 acres of rice, 600 acres of walnuts and 500 acres of almonds. They also rotate another 700 acres of ground between alfalfa, and row crops, like sunflowers, corn and dry beans, such as lima or kidney beans.
Managing the tree nut side of the partnership was a natural move for Anderson, who grew up on his family’s walnut farm. He and Demmer first ventured into walnut production in 1991 when they bought a 160-acre field with a solid set sprinkler system. It had been an almond orchard before the previous owner replaced the trees with dry beans.
“It was a really heavy piece of ground that hadn’t been leveled very well,” Anderson recalls. “Due to a series of springs with a lot of rain, the ground stayed too wet, killing the trees. So, we leveled the field to improve drainage and put in walnuts, which can handle wetter soils than can almonds. Those trees have done well.”
The two partners planted their first almonds in 1994. Today, about half the trees are Nonpareil, while Carmel and Butte each represent a quarter of the total. Although top meat yields last year were around 2,000 pounds per acre, overall, their almond yields averaged about 1,700 pounds per acres in 2009, Anderson says. Meat yields of their 2010 crop averaged 100 pounds per acre less.
In 2009, the in-shell yield of their youngest producing walnuts, six-year old Howards, was about 1 ton per acre. Last year, production of those trees tripled. Anderson expects their production to double annually until they reach their full potential in four years.
Meanwhile, the in-shell yield of their 14-year-old Hartleys in 2010 was a very respectable 2.5 tons per acre or better, Anderson reports. Untimely rains the past two seasons have marred yields of the oldest trees, 17-year-old Chandlers, the last to be harvested. “The quality was real good with desirable light-colored nuts, until we got caught with one and a half inches of rain in 2009 and 2010,” Anderson says. “This year, in-shell yields dropped a little to around 3.7 tons per acre.” Nut meat yields ranged from 48 percent for the Howard variety, 47 percent for Chandler before dropping to 44 percent after the rains and 42 percent for Hartley, he notes.
Also, Anderson has been trying a new variety, Gillet. Developed by the University of California, it leafs out a week or more before Howard or Hartley and has a very low blight score. He planted 34 acres of it initially, grafting 17 acres in 2004 and another 17 acres a year later. “They seem to be producing some pretty good nuts,” Anderson says. “We harvested the first grafting for the second time in 2010 and those 17 acres produced 12 tons (in-shell). That’s not bad. Ninety percent of them were mammoth size and pretty light in color, too. I don’t know if they’ll keep that kind of production up. Usually, as walnut trees get older, they put on more nuts but size of the nuts goes down.”
Anderson has also harvested a few nuts from the second Gillet grafting, which began producing for the first time in 2010.
Gillets mature a little earlier than Hartley and Howard and produce a good meat yield, he notes. In fact, meat yield of his original six-year-old block was 51 percent in 2009 and 48 percent last year. “Thin shells are typical for younger walnut trees,” he says. “The shells of our Gillets are still real thin. When we run them through the huller they break very easily. It may be a seal problem. We don’t know. However, we think the shell will harden as the trees get older. It may be another three years before we decide if we want to plant more of them.”