The big news for California this year is nuts: namely the high volume of big-three tree nuts will be harvested across the state.
For almond, pistachio and walnut growers, the word is all three are in record-high territory this season.
Meanwhile, one of California’s other large permanent crop – grapes – could fall short of earlier record crushes, though wine grape growers are optimistic about quality.
Of the three nut crops, perhaps the biggest news is the pistachio crop, which was characterized by some last year as “a crop failure” at 275 million pounds. Reports from growers last year suggested yields well under 1,000 pounds per acre, due in part to continued drought and low numbers of chilling hours.
This year yields might be three times the amount.
Richard Matoian, president, American Pistachio Growers, expects this year’s pistachio crop – which includes California, Arizona and New Mexico production – could be 650-800 million pounds.
The previous pistachio record was 555 million pounds in 2012.
Like other California nut crops, this year’s pistachio crop appears heavy with harvest activities starting earlier than normal. Nut clusters are large and growers appear happy with the crop.
Matoian has heard that processors are running at high throughput levels.
“We anticipated this,” Matoian says.
Because pistachios are alternate-bearing and the trees failed to produce much of a crop last year, 2016 was already set up for a better yield. A wetter winter, more chilling and improved irrigation supplies for many growers meant trees likely received sufficient water.
Matoian says the pistachio crop is heavy “across the board,” meaning growers in all three states could see higher yields this season. As a result, some California growers have reported broken branches due to the heavy crop – something Matoian has never seen.
“We don’t see this on pistachios,” Matoian said about broken branches tied to heavy cluster weights.
The Top 5 California pistachio-producing counties are Kern, Tulare, Fresno, Madera and Kings.
California walnut production occurs from Kern County to the south to Tehama County to the north. Leading walnut production counties include San Joaquin, Butte, Tulare, Stanislaus and Sutter.
Dani Lightle, orchard systems farm advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension at Glenn County, says hulling and shelling of earlier varieties including Hartley and Howard are pressured by growers wanting to harvest their Chandler varieties earlier than normal.
“People haven’t seen Chandlers go (harvested) before Oct. 1,” Lightle says. “Chandlers could go early this year as well.”
The result is a crunch in processing space, coupled with an already-record crop estimated at 670,000 tons, 11 percent higher than last year’s crop.
Lightle is surprised that walnut blight did not break out across the North State considering the wet spring weather in the Sacramento Valley.
Coddling moth was an issue in North State walnuts this year, she says, suspecting it had more to do with the timing of various flights and less to do with abnormally large pest numbers.
This year’s almond crop is predicted at 2.05 billion pounds, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Survey released earlier this year. This amount is slightly higher than the 2011 record harvest of 2.03 million pounds, and considerably more than last year’s 1.9 billion pounds.
This is expected as bearing acreage is now at least 900,000, nearly 13 percent higher than the bearing acreage during the last record season. Current top almond-producing counties in the state include Stanislaus, Fresno, Kern, Merced and Madera.
Michael Kelley, president of the grower cooperative Central California Almond Growers Association, believes this will happen as his organization plans for record throughput from its membership.
“It will be another record year for us at the association,” Kelley says of the processing volume. The current high-season was 2013 when the association shelled more than 104.86 million pounds of almond meat equivalents.
The cooperative has over 400 members from Tulare to Merced which covers over 52,000 acres, or about 5 percent of statewide almond acreage.
Kelley has heard that San Joaquin Valley almond production is strong this year with lighter amounts reported in the Sacramento Valley.
Franz Niederholzer, UCCE farm advisor in Sutter, Yuba, and Colusa, says he's heard the same. Ne believes the Nonpareil crop could be down 10- 25 percent from last year.
This differs from the statewide NASS report which said reported nut counts per tree during the May 23-June 23 survey period were nearly identical in the two major growing regions. Niederholzer says the flash bloom that launched the 2016 growing season could be to blame for the lighter Nonpareil crop.
Rust was a considerable challenge for Sacramento Valley growers this season, according to another farm advisor.
“Rust was insane up here,” said Dani Lightle, UCCE orchard systems farm advisor for Glenn County.
She heard that growers applied five-to-six fungicide sprays to combat rust. Normally two or less are applied.
Niederholzer says growers in the southern end of the Sacramento Valley had similar rust issues.
“We’re really not sure what kicked the rust it off.”
The “new normal” California grape crush appears to be four million tons.
Nat DiBuduo, president of the Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers, says this should be the expected grape crush moving forward in the Golden State, even as Thompson seedless acreage and wine varietals including White Zinfandel, Ruby Cabernet and Syrah lose favor with consumers and growers.
DiBuduo expects other varieties could replace these varietals as grape growers look to replant more profitable varieties.
The 2016 season could fall short of DiBuduo’s “new norm.” But how short? Not much.
“We expect 3.8 to 3.9 million tons this year,” DiBuduo says.
Statewide volume aside, Napa Valley is looking at a high quality crop with higher yields over 2015. Last year's crop was impacted by poor weather at bloom, says Napa wine grape grower Steven Moulds.
Moulds told Western Farm Press in mid-September that he expected to soon harvest his Cabernet Franc grapes within days and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes a week later.
DiBuduo believes the California grape harvest will conclude by mid-October.
Growers in the Santa Lucia Highlands, a region of the Salinas Valley known for its cool-climate varieties including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, suggest lighter fruit set yet higher quality from the 6,500 acres of terraced vineyards facing eastward on the mountain range that borders the Salinas Valley and the Pacific Ocean.
DiBuduo, whose organization represents growers in price negotiations with wineries, has not heard complaints of poor fruit quality from wineries.
Smoke taint became a buzz in recent months as wildfires threatened to blanket wine grape growing regions with smoke. Earlier this summer, Dave Muret, executive director, Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Association, said the region was spared the effects of the Soberanes Fire across the mountains at Big Sur and looked to avoid possible smoke-related issues.
Likewise, DiBuduo has not heard of taint issues along the Central Coast or in northern growing regions of Lake and Mendocino counties from large wildfires in the region.