Researchers test almonds in Idaho

of Essie Fallahi Almonds grow on a tree at University of Idaho's Parma research station in this photo. Researchers have planted a new almond orchard trial in response to an increasing number of calls from commercial growers in other states who want to know if the crop can grow well in Idaho.

PARMA, Idaho — Researchers have planted an almond orchard trial in response to a large number of inquiries from commercial growers who want to know if that crop can grow well here.

Essie Fallahi, who heads the University of Idaho’s pomology program at the Parma research center, said he has received a lot of calls about almonds from commercial growers in California as well as other states and even Canada.

Almond trees have been grown at the Parma research center in Southwestern Idaho in the past but this is the first time the station has a full almond orchard trial.

Researchers know almonds can be grown in Idaho but the increased interest from commercial growers warrants a full-blown trial to conduct more in-depth research, Fallahi said.

“There is a huge amount of interest (so) we decided to have a more comprehensive test,” he said.

Researchers will study several different aspects involved with growing almonds but at the top of their list will be finding cold-hardy varieties that can withstand Idaho’s winters, which are colder than California’s.

“We have a tendency to have late spring frosts and early fall frosts and we have to see what kind of an effect that is going to have on the almonds,” said Tom Elias, a research assistant at the Parma station. “It’s going to be our only problem growing almonds here that I can foresee.”

The one-acre almond orchard trial was planted this year and includes 16 varieties obtained from nurseries in California.

“What we’re doing now is a trial with multiple different kinds of almonds to … get that research done so growers will know what to plant up here and how to do it,” Elias said.

Interest in the possibility of growing almonds in southern Idaho has soared since California’s most recent drought began, he said.

“We’ve had some almond growers … who are very, very interested in coming up here,” he said. “In the next three to five years, I think you’re going to see some big almond orchards in Idaho. It’s something that’s coming.”

Elias said having commercial almond orchards in Idaho would be good news for Idaho beekeepers. Many of them travel to California to pollinate the almond crop.

“We have some really good bee people up here so … getting almonds pollinated out here is not going to be a problem whatsoever,” he said.

Nampa beekeeper Tom Hamilton said his industry would welcome that development but for now he’s a little skeptical that almonds can grow well enough in Idaho to support commercial operations.

“Almonds are extremely important for us,” he said. “They’re probably 50 percent of our income and even more for some other (beekeepers). It’s a major deal for us.”

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