Crop set uncertainty clouds demand picture

The almond market couldn’t be better, but there are grower doubts that the trees can supply the almonds for the market, so Kings County, Calif., growers are keeping one eye on their orchards and the other on prices.

There could be a perfect storm brewing, says Bob Beede, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for the county.

European consumers are still enamored with California almonds, and the weak dollar is fueling that love affair — not just with almonds, but other California tree nuts as well. Growers report selling Nonpareils for $2.50 per pound, and some foresee prices continuing to rise, maybe even to the $3 level.

“Growers are cautiously optimistic,” Beede says. “But, at the moment they’re not certain they’ll have the production to cash in on this market opportunity. The immature nuts still have to get out of their jackets and growers want to see some assurance that these nuts will stick.”

Fortunately, the county’s almond trees escaped damage temperatures that dipped to around 32 degrees March 10-11.

Crop size concerns center around the limited number of days with favorable temperatures, few clouds and little wind for aggressive bee activity required for good pollination during last month’s bloom. Also, some growers were uneasy about weak bee colonies minimizing pollination. Nonpareil bloom peaked the week of Feb. 22..

The impact of all this should be clear by month’s end, Beede says, at which point, cutting an immature fruitlet lengthwise should reveal a bright, translucent gel if everything is OK. A yellow or brown color would indicate an unviable embryo.

Wet fields have restricted the ability of some growers to apply brown rot and botrytis bloom sprays with ground rigs, and demand for aerial spray services has exceeded the aircraft availability.

This year, Beede says, growers could very easily have justified the use of two fungicide treatments for brown rot, unlike last year when a single spray was adequate. If rains continue, he expects growers will be spraying at least once for shot hole when foliage begins to emerge.

Above-normal rainfall this season will heighten the need for timely weed control. “Growers should be on guard for early emergence of summer weeds and to take action quickly before they become too big,” he says.

On the other side of the coin, the rainy weather has provided good-to-excellent soil moisture, which is good, Beede says; however, it could complicate running water for frost protection.

“Avoid running micro-sprinklers or flood irrigating for frost protection, unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he advises. “You don’t want to saturate the soil profile and risk turning the developing canopy yellow, placing more stress on fruit development.”

Because of the soil moisture conditions this year, Kings County almond growers probably won’t need to start irrigating until around the third week of May, Beede says.

TAGS: Tree Nuts
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