With the last of his Navel orangeworm hull split sprays applied the second week of July, Stanislaus County grower Darrell Cordova geared up for another early start of his almond harvest in early August.
While that’s similar timing to last year, he’s expecting a big difference when he shakes the 2016 crop from the trees.
“The trees are loaded with nuts. This year, we’ve had much more limb breakage than usual,” Cordova says.
“All varieties are doing very well, even the Butte-Padre. When those trees bloomed this year, they looked like popcorn balls. This year, we might actually get the kind of Butte-Padre yields that other growers have reported.”
Since planting his first almond trees in 2005, Cordova has steadily increased his almond operation to 350 acres, including the trees planted this year.
Located near Denair, Calif., his Triple C Farms, LLC, grows six almond varieties – Butte, Padre, Fritz, Independence, Monterey, and Nonpareil, along with 120 acres of Chandler walnuts.
Cordova also grows 345 acres of field crops irrigated by center pivot, harvested for silage for a nearby dairy. The field crops include 165 acres of corn, plus 180 acres of barley, rye, wheat pea, and vetch.
Cordova plans to begin this year’s almond harvest with the Independence and Nonpareil varieties. Following several years when production ranged from about 2,000 to 2,500 pounds of meats per acre, his Nonpareil yields fell to around 1,800 pounds in 2015.
“This year, the crop load on those is the heaviest I’ve ever seen on them,” says Cordova.
He’s expecting his self-fertile Independence trees to turn in another good performance this year. Since 2012 when his third-leaf Independence growing on Nemaguard rootstock produced 1,100 pounds per acre, the yields have climbed continuously to 2,500 pounds-plus last year.
Cordova says, “I really like how the Independence is doing on Atlas, a very vigorous rootstock. Last year in the second-leaf, the trees produced 260 pounds per acre. They’re just loaded this year.”
Even though Independence is self-pollinated, he places bees among the trees at the rate of half a hive per acre.
“They seem to do quite well without the bees, but I like to have a little added assurance,” Cordova says.
His overall 2016 almond crop has benefitted from winter rainfall, more than double the amount received the previous winter.
“The rain carried into spring and saved a lot of irrigation and energy costs, plus reduced tree stress which helped with growth,” Cordova says. “The Independence variety on the nematode-resistant rootstock grew 2-3 feet this year.”
He attributes some of the tree growth to plant-based compost applied every year or two in the orchards during the last five years. Cordova spreads it around the tree rows, rather than across the whole orchard. He applies four tons per acre.
In the fall, he fertilizes the trees with nitrogen, applying UN32 and CAN17 with a potassium treatment (KTS or similar liquid) through the water, basing the application rate on the results of soil and leaf testing.
After harvest, he applies sulfate of potash at the rate of 500 pounds per acre.
By leaving a cover of natural vegetation between the tree rows, Cordova says this encourages tree growth by adding organic matter and improving soil structure. He mows the vegetation close to the ground before shaking the trees to help with nut removal at harvest.
To minimize the time and expense of pruning, he selects three to six scaffold branches one year after planting the trees. Then, instead of cutting the branches back to a short branch, he tries to stimulate early production by removing just the limb tips which opens up the center of the tree.
After the third year, Cordova removes only the dead wood, plus any limbs that interfere with spraying, and opens up the centers as needed.
He reports unusually light pressure from insect pests in his almond and walnut orchards this year.
“We didn’t catch any codling months until the first week of July in walnuts and then just caught two afterwards,” he says. “And up until then, we hadn’t seen any husk flies.”
Typically, Cordova includes an insecticide to target Navel orangeworm and peach tree borer with his miticide spray in May. However, this season he only applied only the miticide Agri-Mek SC, along with Gem 500 SC fungicide and Superior oil plus potassium nitrate.
His hull split spray included Intrepid Edge and the fungicide Quash. This combination helped protect the unusually high population of mite predators.
Cordova has seen fewer ants this season which may reflect the bait treatments used to help limit numbers the last few seasons. This year, he plans a single application before harvest instead of his typical two in-season treatments.
The tree nut grower irrigates the tree nut orchards with groundwater using micro-sprinklers. Although the quality of the water has remained high over the last four years of drought, he says the water tabled has dropped to 260 feet.
In response, he lowered the bowls on two of his 700-foot deep wells by 40 feet and by 100 feet on another, and increased pump sizes to produce the needed water volume. Three years ago Cordova drilled a new well to a 740 foot depth, and placed the bowls about 350 feet deep.