Almonds are viable for some commercial production in southwest Idaho, recent university research shows.
Warmer spots in the region show strong promise for some commercial almond growth, said Essie Fallahi, who heads the pomology program at the University of Idaho Parma Research and Extension Center, where a full-orchard study of 16 almond varieties is in its third year.
The pomologist recommends a small test run initially, with university involvement.
“It’s definitely worth looking at,” Fallahi said.
The recent study on an acre includes varieties selected in part for cold tolerance. About six years ago, UI Parma researchers concluded a smaller study of three almond varieties over 18 years.
Pronounced or ill-timed cold generally cuts yields in the Parma almond orchard but does not decimate the trees, UI researchers found. Almonds have outperformed some better-established Idaho tree fruits in harsh conditions.
Last year’s long, bitterly cold winter took out some peach and apricot trees, but not the almond trees, Fallahi said. This year, a hard freeze during full bloom in April probably will cut almond yields by up to two-thirds of the ideal level. But the almond trees survived.
“We had more loss on apricots than we had on almonds,” Fallahi said.
Full almond bloom often hits by mid-April, at the end of an apricot bloom that can start as early as mid-March, he said.
“Almonds have at least as good of a chance as apricots to make it in this area as far as production and cold tolerance,” Fallahi said. He’s optimistic about almonds at least as an Idaho niche play, in that “almonds can survive if planted in the warmest spots of the region.”
Over the 20-odd years UI Parma research plots have had almond trees, strong yields occurred some of the time, “fair” production was common, and “low-to-fair” output occurred in years with unusually cold winter or spring weather, he said.
Tom Elias, a UI research assistant at Parma, likes what he has seen so far.
“With the climate here, I think the outlook for almonds is really, really positive,” he said.
Increased interest in almonds from commercial growers in recently drought-afflicted California and elsewhere helped prompt the current full-orchard trial in southwest Idaho.
Fallahi said a dozen groups of California growers in the past year visited Parma to check out the Idaho almonds.
“We also had (local) beekeepers excited,” he said. Honeybees are used to pollinate almond trees.