Soggy Start for 2023 Nut Crops

    An almond orchard is flooded by a breach in a levee in Bear Creek in Merced. Photo courtesy of Sara Savary


    Welcome to the first edition of the AgFax Tree Crops newsletter for 2023. Every week, we’ll talk to leading pest control advisers and other industry experts to get their take on what’s happening in California’s tree crop industry — focusing on almonds, pistachios and walnuts. We’ll share their comments in the newsletter every Saturday. Once again, the publication is sponsored by BASF.

    Crop estimates are in for the 2022 nut crops. The California Almond Objective Measurement Report published by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates the 2022 crop will come in at 2.6 billion meat pounds, 11% below last year’s 2.9 billion pounds. The 2022 California walnut production is forecast at 720,000 tons, down 1% from 2021’s production of 725,000 tons. The 2022 U.S. pistachio crop, 99% of which is grown in California, reached 442,069 tons, down from the record 2021 crop of 583,392 tons, according to Fresno-based American Pistachio Growers.

    A serious frost last spring and tight water supplies helped put a dent in the state’s nut programs last year, but growers seem optimistic for potentially strong crops this season, since years with light volume often are followed by heavier crops the following season. The year got off to a soggy start, and nut growers throughout California are recovering from several heavy rainstorms that hit in December and January. Flooding is subsiding, and not much permanent damage has been reported, but the rainy periods did interfere with some cultural practices, such as weed spraying and mummy shaking.


    Sara Savary, PCA, Crop Care Associates, Fresno:

    Almonds: In general, 2022 seemed like a pretty good almond season. Most of my growers had fairly good yields. Some growers got hit by frost, but most of the others had average or above-average yields. It’s too early to make an estimate for the 2023 almond crop. They had very good chill hours, so that’s promising, but frost still could happen as late as April. The season will depend on whether we have a dry spring or a wet spring. If it’s a wet spring, we’ll be fighting diseases all summer. If it’s dry like last year, it will be an easier year as far as diseases go, but then they’ll have more pest issues.

    Pistachios/walnuts: Chill hours also were good for pistachios and walnuts, but they will be pretty much dormant until late February at the earliest. All nut varieties have good potential this year. The recent rain will help. The rivers are running and those who have farm reservoirs are getting their reservoirs filled.

    Rain: I didn’t have any growers affected by flooding. The only problem was we couldn’t do anything. Pre-emergent sprays got delayed. Some of the materials I had written up had to be applied before budswell, and that didn’t happen because budswell occurred before the orchards dried out. They are doing that now, but they had to use different materials.

    Currently: I thinks bees will start coming out next week. Some growers are spraying for weeds. We haven’t done any actual bloom sprays yet, and I’m not doing any dormant sprays because they haven’t been able to get in. I’m just going to skip them. Bloom should start around Feb. 3, which would be pretty much on schedule.

    Dale Deshane, PCA, Supervised Control, Bakersfield:

    Buds are starting to swell in this 9th leaf tree in Button Willow, west of Bakersfield, on Jan. 25. Photo courtesy of Dale Dushane

    Almonds: The 2022 almond crop for most people was probably down. We had a lot of growers who had a real light crop because of the freeze and a combination of other things. There were a few people who did better than others. But a lot of people are thinking, if Mother Nature doesn’t mess us up, we should have a fairly decent crop this year. Usually, if you have a light almond crop one year, the next year you’ll have a heavier crop.

    Pistachios: There were a lot of unhappy pistachios farmers. Deals were way, way off for most people. There were a few who did OK and had a normal or better-than-normal crop, but the majority had a real light crop. There are a lot of different ideas as to why that was. It goes back to spring, when the week of bloom for pistachios got extremely hot — 105 to 108 degrees. It turned around right after that and froze. It went from one extreme to another. It was not a normal season for pistachios at all. But it was such a light crop last year that most people are expecting heavier bud set this year. The feeling right now is the pistachio crop should be better – more like normal.

    Rain: The recent rain caused a lot of headaches for people, but we definitely had to have it. Depending on what area you’re in, there was definitely some damage to the almonds, but mostly in the northern part of the state, not so much down here where we are. We had a few windstorms, but not a lot of trees got blown down, like they did in past years. Some orchards were flooded, but they dried out pretty good down here. Up north, they had a lot more flooding. The rain held up a lot of cultural practices that normally happen in December and January, such as herbicide sprays and shaking mummies. It’s got some people behind and trying to catch up before bloom starts. Our first bees were coming in last weekend though, so bloom is right around the corner.

    Justin Nay, PCA, CCA, president, Integral Ag Inc., Chico:

    Random Winters variety flowers in Colusa County on a stressed tree. This is not the norm but an anomaly this week. Photo courtesy of Justin Nay

    Almonds: We are still getting the last of the water off fields (as of Jan. 23), but with the dry, cold north winds, fields are becoming drivable rapidly. We did not find any pink buds yet this week, just a lot of budswell and green bud. Last year, we were already averaging about 10% pink in the early Winters, Sonora and Fritz blocks this same week of the year. We are even seeing a lot of dormant flowers still. If I had to guess, we could be at least seven to 10 days behind last year, but since the crop isn’t moving yet, we cannot be sure.

    An example of almond mummies from a Monterey tree in Colusa County. The rain and wind did not knock them all down. Photo courtesy of Justin Nay

    Mummies: We are still out checking trees for mummies. Most growers had to stop during the December and January rain events. With how swollen the flower buds are now, most likely we will have to wrap up with poling crews. The rains and wind did bring down the mummy load, but some ranches still have more work to do, especially if they had a high mummy infest. We are averaging about 0.26 worms per mummy (26 per 100 mummies) in our December crack outs this year, which is a little bit higher than our 16-year running average of about 0.19 worms per mummy statewide. Some ranches were much higher than this. On the upside, the number of flowers per tree in the north is looking strong, likely as a result of the smaller crops last year due to frost.

    Rust pustules on carryover Nonpareil almond leaves from Colusa County. This is very rare so far this year compared to previous years. Photo courtesy of Justin Nay

    Rust/disease: We did find some carryover leaves with rust, but this is much lower than the last couple of years. Normally, we would find hundreds of pustules per leaf at this time of year. This year, you have to check hundreds of leaves just to find a single pustule. With all the rain and wind, I am surprised we are not seeing more disease. We are having a few discussions about root disease because of the flooding.

    Pistachios/walnuts: There’s some ongoing pruning and mummy removal with pistachios, and we’re just treating weeds at some scattered walnut ranches.

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