Like growers throughout the San Joaquin Valley, almond grower Don Cameron welcomed the cooling temperatures, plus scattered rainfall, that moved into the region during the first and second weeks of May.
In fact, for much of the second week, maximum daytime temperatures reached no higher than about 75 degrees.
“It’s a nice break,” he says. “Because of the reduced ET , trees aren’t stressing. “But, even with the cooler weather, the almond crop is maturing and moving right along.”
After starting in late April, the kernels on Don Cameron’s almond trees south of Kerman, Calif. had completed filling by May 18. That’s about 10 to 14 days earlier than customary, which he attributes to above-normal temperatures for much of March and April.
“That warm weather accelerated development of all our crops,” says Cameron.
As general manager for Terranova Ranches and Prado Farms, he oversees a 7,000-acre vegetable, wine grape and tree nut operation. The almond acreage includes 180 acres of mature Nonpareil and Monterey, 300 acres of fourth-leaf Nonpareil and Monterey that produced their first crop last year. This year, he’ll be harvesting the first crop from 150 acres of Nonpareil, Monterey, and Wood Colony and an 80-acre block of older Nonpareil, Butte and Carmel acquired last year.
Cameron also credits the cool May weather with reducing pressure on his trees from insects, particularly mites.
Around the end of April, after noticing some light mite numbers, he treated his younger (one- to two-year-old) trees, which are particularly susceptible to mites, with a preventive spray.
“Usually, we have to come back two or three times during the year to keep mites under control,” Cameron says. “So far, this single treatment has been holding well and the trees have remained clean. They look great.”
As happens from time to time, his biggest challenge in managing his almond trees this spring has been high winds that take out older trees and break the limbs of younger trees with heavy crop loads. Cleaning up the debris from orchard floors has been a constant chore for his crews.
Terranova Ranches and Prado Farms rely on wells for all irrigation water.
“The wells are holding up a little bit better than expected this year and the quality of the water continues to be satisfactory,” says Cameron. He’s doing all he can to keep it that way.
Using a grant from the California Department of Water Resources, the ranch is three years into a long-term project to capture any flood water that could threaten municipalities downstream and use that water to irrigate his fields and recharge the underlying water table. It’s part of the Flood Protection Corridor Program and will involve several more years of engineering, permitting and construction work to get to final completion and begin recharge.
“We’re trying to be as forward thinking as we can,” he explains. “While most people are looking at drought, we’re looking at managing flood water as a valuable resource. In this case, we’ll be turning off pumps and taking water from the North Fork of the Kings River when it floods. That will help to help mitigate flooding in cities and towns downstream. At the same time, we’ll be using that water to irrigate our crops, to flood fields of permanent plantings and fields not being farmed. This will recharge the aquifer for long-term sustainability.”
As for this year’s crop, the recent USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service subjective production estimate predicts the continuing drought will lower the size of this year’s California almond harvest by about 8 percent from than the 1.85 billion pounds growers produced in 2014.
That doesn’t surprise Cameron.
“I look at a lot of almonds as I drive around the valley,” he says. “I see a good number of medium-age to older orchards where the crop looks a little light, especially in the Nonpareil variety. That coupled with the stress on trees resulting from the lower quality ground water being used for irrigation adds up to a smaller crop.”
Because many of Terranova Ranch’s orchards are much younger compared to a typical grower, his operation may be the exception. “Our younger trees have set a pretty nice crop this year, he says.