A gathering at the Tulare County Fairgrounds was completely nuts – pistachios, almonds and walnuts, to be exact. Attendance at the South Valley Nut Conference drew nearly 500 people.
Concurrent workshops were conducted for each nut group, focusing on specific challenges and marketing efforts for those commodities. But a general session opened the conference with an emphasis on a challenge they all share: the water crisis facing growers statewide.
“Water is probably the issue that is most important for you, because it will determine whether you survive or not,” said Mario Santoyo, assistant general manager of the Friant Water Authority and executive director of the California Latino Water Coalition.
His talk came just days before voters would check off ballots to decide if the state would act to adopt a $7.55 billion bond that includes increased storage with building of reservoirs, including one at Temperance Flat in Fresno County.
Santoyo likened groundwater to a depleted savings account since the availability of surface water has been cut so drastically.
He also warned that even if a twin tunnel system proposed for conveyance of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta was built, “that doesn’t mean we can use it.”
He pointed to the shutdown of Delta pumps far to protect endangered species.
Appropriately enough, Gureet Brar, UC farm advisor for Fresno and Madera Counties, closed his presentation on post-harvest practices in almonds with this Indian saying:
Rabba, rabba mee’n varsaa…“O God! Give us some rain, so we could fill our bins with grain.”
Brar gave a timely talk on the need to monitor for certain insect pests and diseases in almonds.
Among those is almond rust, which he said can be addressed by the use of zinc sulfate, a product that can also be used on shot hole in late October or early November.
Other challenges can be mealybugs. Brar suggested marking areas where there are infestations after harvest, and then monitor those in the spring.
Brar says now is a good time to sample for nematodes and to practice orchard sanitation to reduce the threat from Navel orangeworm, remove mummies from any rogue trees, clear the orchard floors, and spray for weeds.
Dormant spur sampling is best done from mid-November to January, Brar says, to look for mite eggs, scale, and almond scab.
Managing chill in pistachios
Another speaker at the conference was Katherine Pope, University of California farm advisor for Yolo, Solano, and Sacramento counties, who talked of managing chill in pistachios.
Pope said the lack of chilling this year, perhaps coupled with other factors, contributed to delayed, erratic bloom, poor leaf-out, more blanks, a long harvest window, and multiple shakes.
For the San Joaquin Valley, the chill was down 26 percent.
She says other factors also challenged the crop; including “dry soils when the trees woke up,” low water allocations, sub-optimal and sometimes saline water, warmer temperatures at bloom, along with less fog.
Pope says warm temperatures shortly after chilling hours also lessened true chilling time. She said dormant oils can help, and growers should record temperatures in their orchards and watch trees more closely and make sure “trees wake up to moist soils.”
Richard Matoian, executive director of the American Pistachio Growers, Fresno, discussed crop marketing; noting a 71 percent increase in kernel shipments in four years.
Given that kernels sell at twice the price of in-shell snack pistachios, it’s a way to boost returns to the industry as it opens more markets with sales for baking and other ingredient uses.
Matoian says pistachio advertisements in fitness and food magazines appeal to those practicing “a healthy, active lifestyle.”
The industry is also pairing with Anheuser Busch to offer money-saving coupons for the purchase of pistachios with beer purchases. The brewer is picking up the cost of the joint venture.
Don Carson, vice president of project development for Coldwell Solar Inc., discussed solar energy and net energy metering. He explained that the metering system operates “like an ATM” with users able to pull out power they have added within a 12-month period. They are also able to aggregate all the meters they have.
Since there is the 12-month limit on accumulating and then using power, Carson said it is important not to over-size solar collection. The payout on solar, he says, comes between three and one-half and four years. A standard warranty is 25 years.
David Haviland, UC farm advisor in Kern County, talked about spider mites and that growers may be mistakenly applying more miticide than truly needed.
He said growers are now applying twice the amount of miticides today compared to the last decade. Haviland recommends monitoring for the pest and applying sprays only as needed, assessing which predators there are and not eliminating them altogether, and instead keeping some mites alive for predator feeding.
“You need to leave the predator food there, something so the good guys can get established,” Haviland said.
Those good guys include thrips, the spider mite destroyer, and the minute pirate bug.
Haviland was among those who talked of new regulations on volatile organic compounds that set restrictions on high-VOC products used on alfalfa, almonds, citrus, cotton, grapes, pistachios, and walnuts. He said the good news is that some low-VOC formulations can be used instead.
Denise Qualls, CEO of The Pollination Connection, discussed declining bee health and the vital role of bees in pollination of crops including almonds.
She said queen bee quality has declined to a point that queens must be replaced every six months, compared to past practices of every two years. She said the opening of hives for that purpose and for other reasons is placing great stress on the bees.
In a seven year period, there were five years when colony losses amounted to nearly a third or more.
Drought has been a contributor, Qualls said.
“There are no puddles” in the orchard, she said, recommending that water – along with burlap – be placed in buckets near hives to help sustain bees.
Air quality regulations are posing another challenge to beekeepers, who come from across the country for the almond bloom in California. She said it could necessitate meeting some of those out-of-state beekeepers at inspection stations to transfer and transport hives into the state in approved vehicles.
Salinity in pistachios
Stephen Grattan, a UC extension specialist, talked of salinity management in pistachios. He said the UCB I rootstock appears to have the best tolerance to salinity.
Injury from salinity worsens over time, he said, with chlorine damage showing first, then sodium harm. Grattan said it is important to take water, soil, and leaf tissue samples several times during the season to check for salinity.
If saline water is used, Grattan warned, “Do not let the soil profile dry out. Salt and drought stress can do severe damage.”
It’s best to leach the soil in the winter, he says, when there is lower evaporation or when salt has accumulated to critical levels.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux talked about rural crime prevention and the county’s rural crimes task force. A second airplane will be purchased to find lawbreakers and it is important to report all crimes so that deputies can note trends and chart the best locations for surveillance.
Boudreaux said walnut thefts have been cut dramatically in three years, and new legislation is helping deter thefts of copper and other materials.
He suggested growers mark their property, stamp tires on their equipment, and use sturdy locks.