California Almonds: Bloom Starts, Moves Fast…Really Fast – AgFax

California almond trees in bloom. Photo: Sara Savary for AgFax Media

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  • Here is this week’s issue of AgFax Tree Crops.
  • Our thanks to BASF and its California team for sponsoring this coverage.
  • Got questions or comments? Let us know.
Owen Taylor, Editor
Jenny Holtermann, Contributing Editor

OVERVIEW

Bloom is here and in various stages throughout the state. Our contacts noted the fast speed at which bloom arrived this year once it did start. Petal fall has started in places, too.

Temperatures in recent days significantly favored pollination, and bees remained active and had plenty of bloom to keep them moving. More than one of our contacts this week noted that this has been a trouble-free start, relatively speaking.

Recommendations remain mixed on timing and effectiveness of bloom sprays. As parts of the region prepared for possible rain, some growers rushed to ensure applications were completed where spraying was planned. Others are waiting for full bloom or petal fall to spray.

Rain has been in the forecast for the Southern Central Valley over parts of the weekend. As we closed this report Saturday, we heard reports of light rain falling in places.

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CROP REPORTS

Sara Savary, PCA, Crop Care Associates, Fresno

“Bloom came on slow but then revved up the pace. Our area is mostly in full bloom now. Sonora is at full bloom, Nonpareils are running 60% to 70% bloom to full bloom in certain areas, and pollinators are not far behind.

“Growers have started irrigating. Orchards that had been irrigated first are a little farther behind in bloom, while the most recently irrigated fields are more advanced. The bloom stages depend on coolness in the soil.

“The bees are very active, and from mid-morning through 5 p.m. they are out and flying. We’ve been in the low 70s, making it perfect bloom weather, so far.

“Growers are putting on the first bloom spray right now. There is a chance of rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday. The chances increase for rain in the last part of February and the beginning of March.

“With the larger growers, it could take a week or more to get all their acres covered, so it’s better to start now. We advise our larger growers to apply a bloom spray at full bloom. Smaller growers have more flexibility since it doesn’t take as long to spray all their fields.

“Weather can be unpredictable this time of year. Showers can pop up in the forecast and pour rain on the fields. Or, the forecast might include a chance of rain but it never shows up. You never know.

“With this nicer weather, gopher and squirrel activity has increased. In particular, gophers can be a problem in 1- or 2-year-old trees. It’s also a good time of year to bait for squirrels because they are hungry and looking for something to eat.”

  

Dale Deshane, PCA, Supervised Control, Bakersfield

“Bloom is erratic this year. In the last 3 to 4 days, we have gone from a few flowers to orchards hitting full bloom, and those could be in petal fall by the weekend. Some Monterey blocks have more bloom than Nonpareil right now. Nonpareil fields vary from full bloom to others at only 20% to 40% bloom.

“Butte and Padre orchards show a lot of pink buds but are tracking closely behind Nonpareil. In the next 4 to 5 days, they will be even closer.

“There are mixed opinions on the effectiveness of a fast bloom. As long as we have good weather and active bees, we don’t need a really long bloom, in my opinion. Bees have been very busy in the last 5 to 6 days. A week ago, there were hardly any flowers. But this last week, we’ve noticed a big change, and the bees are enjoying it.

“Just in the last few days, 3 or 4 growers said they had young 4- to 6-leaf Independence and Nonpareil orchards pushing out leaves but very sporadic flowers. They’re only seeing a few blooms on the bottom and top of the trees, but the middle is very sparse. The limbs look like there are no buds, just deadwood. We have enlisted the farm advisor to help us determine what is causing these leaves to push without blooms already out.

“The forecast in some parts of Kern County (on 2/20) calls for a 90% chance of ¼ inch of rain for Saturday. Growers are limited to how much bloom spray they could get done. Most are waiting until petal fall to apply a bloom spray and also will add nutrients and fungicides then.

“Most growers in our area are irrigating now. It has been pretty dry but we also also had cooler temperatures in the mornings until this week. Growers are trying to keep the root zones slightly wet to protect against frost.

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“Pistachio growers are monitoring for mealybug and scale but haven’t seen anything to cause concern.

“In alfalfa, we are picking up more weevils this week and could be doing some weevil sprays at the end of next week. Growers have started planting tomatoes in Mettler and potatoes are popping up. Onions and garlic don’t show signs of disease in the dry soil.”

 

Gary Gliddon, PCA, Treevine Consulting, Modesto

“This has been one of the most relaxed springs and bloom periods I can remember. Nonpareil is mostly at full bloom, followed by Fritz, Aldrich and Monterey close to full bloom. Independence is at 70% to 75% bloom.

“Carmel is at 10% to 20% bloom. While it seems farther behind, those blooms are opening fast. Butte and Padre are 10% to 20% bloom. By next week, those blocks will be at full bloom. Most of the early varieties will be at petal fall by next week.

“Bees are very active in this weather. It’s been in the mid-60s for most of the bloom period. No signs of problems and no reason to make any bloom sprays right now since there’s no disease when it’s dry. The storm coming over the weekend will mostly develop south of us, so rain is unlikely here. When there’s no rain in the forecast, spraying at petal fall will be a better option.

“Once the tree is pushing leaves, we’ll start fertilization programs. If a tree pushes too many leaves now, they won’t push many nuts. We have been lucky not to see any of that.

“Growers are applying about an inch of irrigation if they have well water. Water won’t be available in canals until March 1, so those growers have to wait. We just want to keep water available to the trees without saturating soils. Once the leaves come out, we will ramp up irrigation.”

 

Brian Gogue, PCA, Helena Agri Enterprises LLC, Hanford

“It has been a crazy bloom season, so far. With most orchards, we’re seeing a very fast bloom. Last weekend bloom was minimal, barely at 1%. Now, we are mostly at 50% to 80% bloom, with a few orchards already at full bloom. Aldrich is at about 80% bloom, Independence is running 40% to 60%. Nonpareil seems to be ranging from 30% to 100% bloom. Depending on the field, it is a toss-up whether the Nonpareil or Monterey are further along.

“Most growers have been applying bloom sprays in the last few days. All sprays will finish up by Tuesday. Usually, we recommend using a first bloom spray at 5% to 10% bloom and a second spray at full bloom. About 90% of my growers are only applying one bloom spray.

“The growers who started spraying earlier this week went with nutrients but did not include a fungicide since there was zero chance of rain in the forecast then.

“The forecast for our area (on 2/20) is averaging one-tenth of an inch for late Friday and early Saturday morning. With a range of 50% to 80% likelihood, it is tough to gauge the impact it might or might not have.

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“Just about all growers are irrigating now. With 24- to 48-hour drip irrigation sets, they will apply about an inch of water. With rain being unpredictable, we need to start putting on moisture. Fertility is starting up at this point, as well.

“A few walnut growers in the last week began applying a scale spray. Pistachio growers are also beginning to irrigate in small increments.”

 

Luke Milliron, Area Sustainable Orchard Research Advisor, Butte, Glenn and Tehama Counties

“At the northern UC variety trial hosted at the Chico State farm, Nonpareil hit full bloom two days ago (Wednesday, 2/19). The week before, t only a handful of flowers were out. It has been a superfast bloom season.

“I don’t see any frost in the upcoming forecast in the Chico area, so if a grower has sufficient and well-stocked hives, they should be in a great situation. This is an unusual almond bloom up north this year for PCAs who generally advise a two-spray program due to our more typical rainy conditions.

“A couple of walnut growers tell me they are winter-irrigating to partially refill the soil profile during dormancy.”

 

Rodney Ratzlaff, PCA/CCA, Nutrien, Merced

“Bloom in our area is wide open, and it ranges from 50% to 80% across most varieties. Butte and Padre are also are starting to bloom, with the Padres just a day or two behind the Buttes. This has been a relatively fast bloom. It appears to be quicker than most blooms in the last few years.

“With the lack of rainfall to date, growers have started irrigation. Growers with sandier soils started two weeks ago. With heavier soils, they’ve just now started irrigation.

“Our weather has been incredibly warm, making for excellent pollination. The forecast (on 2/20) shows a small chance of rain around March 1 but not enough to get anyone excited.

“Dormant sprays went out with copper, but growers are very limited on how much copper can be applied once green tissue is exposed. Bloom sprays and fungicide applications are hit or miss. Most growers are holding off unless there is rain in the forecast. I recommend waiting for more green tissue to show closer to petal fall.”

UPCOMING EVENTS

      
ALSO OF NOTE
holterman-trump-bakersfield-20200224_989701.jpg

Jenny Holtermann, AgFax Tree Crops contributing editors, spoke Thursday in Bakersfield during an event in which President Trump rolled out updated biological opinions that support more water diversion from the Delta to farmers in the southern Central Valley and Southern California. She spoke about the critical importance of water for family farms. Holtermann is a fourth-generation almond farmer who grew up in Butte County and now is involved with her husband’s family in their farming operation in Kern County.

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