March frost damage lowers almond grower’s harvest prospects

Vernon Martinazzi, Berenda, Calif., began shaking his first almond trees Aug. 10, but despite favorable summer weather, which hasn’t been too hot, and low pest pressures up to that point, he doesn’t expect yields to be as good as they might have been after his Madera County orchards were hit hard by frost the second week of March.

One morning, temperatures in his orchards dropped to as low as 26 degrees for two hours. “We weren’t expecting temperatures below about 31 or 32 degrees,” he says. “Otherwise, we’d have started our sprinklers.”

This was only the second time his trees have suffered from sub-freezing temperatures. The other time was 23 years ago, and then the frost damage was not nearly as severe.

The 78-year-old Martinazzi, grows 220 acres of almonds — Aldrich, Butte, Carmel, Fritz, Mission, Monterey, Nonpareil and Padre.

The Butte and Padre trees were almost in full bloom when the frost hit, and rather than a normal 3,000-pound per acre yield, he expects production to drop to around 2,000 pounds for those two varieties.

“The Nonpareil got quite a bit of frost, and yields will probably be down 25 percent to 30 percent from last year,” Martinazzi says. “The 19- and 20-year old trees may have 2,000 pounds on them this year. But, the younger trees were affected much more; the 5-year old trees may only produce only about 700 pounds per acre, compared about 2,500 pounds last year.”

The frost just about wiped out the Fritz, he says. Last year, he harvested about 2,800 pounds of nuts per acre from the 5-year old trees; this year, he’s expecting no more than about 300 pounds. Meanwhile, he’s looking for the Monterey trees to yield only about 1,200 pounds per acre, compared to 3,000 pounds in 2008.

“I think production will be much higher for all the varieties next year,” Martinazzi says. “The trees are looking better than they have in a long time, with a lot of new bud wood this year. We could have a really large crop in 2010.”

TAGS: Tree Nuts
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