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Drought, heat take toll on almond sizes, weights

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

The harvest of early almond varieties is under way in California, and growers say the sizes and weights of some nuts are down. Drought, heat and disease pressure are seen as contributing to the troubles.

GERBER, Calif. — Drought, heat and disease pressure in the southern San Joaquin Valley are so far producing a lighter almond crop than expected in California, industry insiders say.

As the harvest of Nonpareils has been underway in southern areas for several weeks, growers are seeing a higher level of rejects than usual as kernels are coming in smaller and drier than normal, said Dave Baker, Blue Diamond Growers’ director of member relations.

“We have a little higher reject levels this year with navel orangeworm,” Baker said. “The kernels are much drier on the earlier ones than they are normally because of the drought, so time will tell. Once we get going and see what the heart of the harvest is like, we’ll have a much better idea of how it’s going to come out.”

Early-variety almond harvests are just getting started in the Sacramento Valley. Because of rain last week and lingering humidity, some nuts sat on the ground for 16 days before they could be swept up, said Eric Borror, a grower here.

“I think it looks pretty good,” his brother, grower Kevin Borror, said of the crop. “I don’t know if it’s as good as last year on our ranch, but we’ve just taken our first loads in … and they look decent.”

The reports come as the National Agricultural Statistics Service last month predicted California’s 2014 almond production would total 2.1 billion meat pounds, up nearly 8 percent from its May forecast and up 4.5 percent from last year’s crop.

However, the NASS office in Sacramento maintained Nonpareils, which represent 38 percent of California almonds, would see a 1 percent drop from last year.

This spring, NASS predicted a net gain of 20,000 bearing acres this year to reach a historic high of 860,000 acres of productive almond trees statewide, even while estimating that 10,000 acres had been taken out in the past year.

However, Baker said there are orchards in a few areas that won’t have a crop this year because of a lack of water. And the near-daily 100-degree heat isn’t helping, either.

“There are probably a couple hundred thousand acres of trees that are stressed substantially because of water quantities and water qualities,” he said. “Both conditions are causing some problems. So with that happening and the heat that we have and are having … we have seen an effect on the kernel size and kernel weights. That could be a factor in determining what the final outcome of the crop is.”


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