Stanislaus County grower Darren Ventura, who manages Hudelson Company’s tree nut production near Modesto, Calif., isn’t expecting his walnut orchards to set any records when he harvests this year’s crop.
“It looks average in size,” he says. “We had a pretty good crop set and we’re seeing a lot of doubles. However, some people are saying that the dry winter may ultimately reduce yields.”
His orchards include about 35 acres each of Chandler and Tulare walnut varieties along the Stanislaus River and a 75-acre block of Hartleys near Waterford.
This is the 13th year for the Chandler block. Ventura anticipates those trees will produce about 6,000 pounds of nuts per acre this season, similar to their yields for the past several years. The trees are on a 25-by-25-foot spacing. Because they’re growing on relatively fertile river bottoms, he had hoped originally to harvest about 7,000 pounds per acre once the trees reach full production. However, some problems, particularly with root disease, have limited yields, he notes.
“One section of that block is really sandy and the trees there aren’t as productive as elsewhere in the field,” he says. “Also, now that the trees are getting a little older we’re starting to see quite a bit of crown gall. Otherwise, though, the trees are in good health.”
His Tulares, now in their 8th leaf, are planted in a hedge row pattern, with the trees spaced 12-foot apart within rows and 25 feet between rows. This pattern is design to boost yields in the early-producing years of the trees. Last year, the trees yielded about 4,500 pounds per acre. “This year, we’re hoping to be around 5,000 pounds,” Ventura says. “Eventually, we’d like to see production at 6,500 pounds per acre. That would be pretty good.”
He plans to replace the aging Hartleys with higher-producing Chandlers in the next few years. He was satisfied with the crop set this season. But, the 35-year old stands include a number of dead trees and empty spaces where trees have been removed over the years.
The location is on rolling ground next to a dry creek and doesn’t produce the vigorous tree growth that his other blocks do, Ventura notes. As a result, when he replants the orchard, he might put half in a hedge-row pattern. The other half would be on conventional 25-by-25-foot spacing.
(For more, see: California walnut industry surges with record exports)
Husk fly pressure this season has been higher than usual. Stands of black walnut trees growing along the Stanislaus River provide a home for the insects which invade his adjacent fields. Also, he suspects the dry winter weather may also have played a role in increasing husk fly numbers this season.
This year, he’s set aside 15 acres of his Chandlers for a University of California Cooperative Extension trial comparing different chemical application methods.
Ventura treats for both husk fly and coddling moth based on trap counts. To reduce application costs he tank-mixes the individual insecticides to control both pests with the same spray. At the same time, he applies a husk fly bait to every other row. He makes the first combined application when the husk fly catch reaches the treatment threshhold. That spray also targets the second codling moth flight. Ventura makes a second application 14 days later. Usually, those two sprays will control the codling moth.
Each year he also treats to control spider mites. At one time, he treated mites after they began feeding on his trees by combining his miticide spray with his husk fly insecticide. Unfortunately, that didn’t control the mites adequately. “Now, we treat for mites before we see damage,” Ventura says. “I don’t like to do that. But, it’s much easier to control them that way than waiting until the mites have done their damage.”
Ventura expects to start this year’s walnut harvest, as usual, in the middle of October. Last year he had problems with yellowing of the nut meats in his Chandlers. That was attributed to water damage caused when the nuts remained in the wet field environment too long. As a result, he’s likely to run the shaker through his fields two different times this season.
“Normally, we get a lot windfall as harvest nears,” Ventura says. “So, this year we’ll just bump the trees with the shaker before picking up the windfall. Then we’ll come back with the shaker when we normally would to get the rest of the nuts.”
He figures that the higher price he’ll get for nuts free of any off-color will outweigh the added costs of shaking his trees twice. “Even an extra 10 cents a pound for undamaged nuts makes a big difference in returns on a 260,000-pound crop,” Ventura says. “So, the extra harvesting operation should more than pay for itself.”