On Sept. 19, Madera County farmer Vernon Martinazzi, expects to wrap up his almond harvest earlier than he’s ever done in three decades of growing this crop.
That follows his earliest ever start, when he began shaking his Nonpareil trees on July 24.
Martinazzi, in his early 80s, grows 220 acres of almonds – Aldrich, Butte, Carmel, Fritz, Mission, Monterey, and Padre, plus his Nonpareil – near Berenda, Calif. His two sons, Vince and Eddie, also grow almonds, each on their own separately-farmed ground nearby.
The 2014 California Almond Objective Measurement Report, issued by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service on June 30, forecast the size of this year’s crop at 2.1 billion meat pounds – 4.5 percent to 5-percent bigger than last year’s levels. That’s in contrast to the crop Martinazzi is harvesting from his trees this year.
“Based on what I’m seeing and in talking with other growers, almond yields are off quite a bit from last year,” he says. “My Nonpareil production was down this year about 30 percent. I don’t have the huller’s report on my hard shells, but I expect they’ll be off from last year’s levels.
He suspects warmer-than-usual weather and dry conditions during bloom may have contributed to his lower yields. “Also, our beekeeper saw less pollen in the boxes,” he says. “That might also have something to do with it.”
It appears that the last two varieties he’s harvesting – Monterey and Fritz – will be his best producers this year. Even then, he expects those yields to be down about 200 to 300 pounds per acre from 2013 levels, when he produced an average of 2,900 pounds per acre. However, that would still be about 400 to 500 pounds per acre more than his Nonpareils produced this year. Last year, his Nonpareil yields averaged about 3,100 pounds per acre. His 2013 Butte-Padre production averaged about 2,500 pounds per acre.
Despite the prospects of a smaller crop this year, Martinazzi is heartened by another development. “Almond prices are better than ever,” he says.
In the first week of September, buyers were offering to buy Nonpareils at an average price of $4 per meat-pound, depending on size.
Monterey’s were selling for about $3.70 per pound and California varieties were priced around a dime or so lower.
The only concern Martinazzi has about the quality of his 2014 almond crop is the shriveling he’s noticed in some of the nuts he’s harvested. He’ll get a clear picture of crop quality, including any navel orangeworm or insect damage, when he receives the USDA grade.
This is the first year that Martinazzi, who farms in the Madera Irrigation District, has received no surface water. Instead, his wells provided all the water to irrigate his orchards this season.
“I had enough water, but I had my fingers crossed,” he says. “During the year several of my pumps were breaking suction at 280 feet. So, I had to deepen them to 340 feet.
Pumping all his water from the ground may have shorted his trees somewhat on water this year, since the pumps used to irrigate his fields with surface water operate at a higher pressure than his well pumps, Martinazzi adds.
At the beginning of this year, he measured water pressure being pumped from one of his deep wells at 22 psi. By the start of harvest, that same pump was delivering water at just 15 psi.
Unless Martinazzi’s orchards receive significant rainfall this season, he plans to deepen more of his wells next year in an effort to hedge against a continued drop in the water table.