As he cut open a sampling of developing nuts in his almond orchards in late April, Dave Phippen was pleased with what he saw.

“They were still in their gel stage, but the kernels were pretty well filled out,” he says. “Although the bloom began a few days later than last year, development of the crop is right on track with previous years.”

Phippen is a co-owner of Travaille and Phippen, a family business that has been growing almonds in the Ripon-Manteca area of California’s San Joaquin County for three generations. Varieties include Aldrich, Butte, Carmel, Fritz, Monterey, Nonpareil and Sonora.

Wells drilled in each orchard shortly after the severe drought of 1977, supplementing reduced irrigation district water, should mean normal supplies of water for his almonds this year.

Running water and wind machines limited frost damage in early March, when temperatures dropped as low as 29 degrees. They lingered there for at least four hours one night, enough to cause real damage without frost protection.

But, the damage doesn’t seem as severe as he and his neighbors first feared. “A lot of us in the area felt devastated,” he says. “But, the nuts have been coming back. I thought we had lost a whole orchard of Carmels, where all the blooms fell off. But, because the frost was so early, there was still time for other blossoms to develop. We lost some Nonpareils, but we could still have a decent crop of Carmels as well as later-blooming varieties, like Butte and Monterey.

“Right now, I think the nut set may be off as much as 20 percent from last year, so production may be normal or slightly lower this year.”

This year’s statewide first crop estimate of 1.45 million pounds is down almost 10 percent from the 2008 crop. However, bearing acreage is up almost 5 percent from 2008 to 2009. Weather has been a factor in the lower crop estimate, but most industry observers indicate back-to-back big crops have burdened trees and they set a smaller crop this season.

This year, Phippen has set aside a pair of two 20-acre blocks to try two new pest management techniques, a result of increasing resistance to abamectin for controlling spider mites over the past two years. Instead of applying miticides as a preventive measure, he will monitor mite levels and treat only when numbers reach established threshold levels.

Phippen will also use something other than a pyrethroid for treating navel orangeworm (NOW) and peach twig borer (PTB) at hull split. Pyrethroids are notorious for flaring mites.