Drought + warmer weather makes for early harvest and smaller yields
Theo Douglas of The Bakersfield Californian reports that the latest official estimate by USDA for the 2015 almond crop is 1.8 billion pounds. Growers, however, are saying almond production could be as low as 1.7 billion pounds due to continued weather problems.
While California continues in its 4th year of drought this year has also been unusually warm, depriving trees of their necessary chill hours as well as adding further stress and speeding up maturity. Groundwater used to water orchards has also been reported to contain higher salinity in some areas, a further limiting factor. As a result, nut production is down and nuts are smaller than normal.
The only good news is that many growers are well underway with harvest and some have already finished, negating the worry of possible rain or other weather damage from the expected oncoming El Nino.
Grower slashes water usage
Lauren María Alexander writes for GrowingProduce.com detailing some of the water management strategies used by Dan and Tom Rogers Farming, the winner of the 2014 Farm Water Steward Award. Brothers Dan and Tom Rogers run the operation, which has been in business almost 100 years and grows 175 acres of almonds in Madera County.
The ongoing drought left the Rogers operation, along with many others, with no surface water available for irrigation for the last 2 years. To help improve their water conservation, Tom switched from micro sprinklers to fully automated double line drip irrigation controlled through software on his computer. The new system releases water in 1 hour pulses. The system is designed to match the rate at which water is taken up by the soil, avoiding puddling and thus limiting evaporation and ensuring as much water as possible goes where it’s supposed to when it’s needed.
Rogers has also increased monitoring of conditions throughout the orchard that help determine how much water the trees are using and when irrigation is needed. Weather stations throughout the orchard help monitor the trees’ evapostranspiration rate, while soil moisture sensors have been adjusted to better match the trees’ root zone.
Despite the improvements, however, Rogers is still looking for other ways to improve water management and efficiency.