After the warmest winter on record, almond trees bloomed early this year, pink-white blossoms blanketing orchards in the early weeks of February. Now, farmers who would normally wait until late August or early September are dusting off tree shakers or hiring hands to begin harvesting a month before they would in a normal year.
But despite the heat and the drought, this year may mark California’s biggest almond crop to date, according to a report released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I think the vast majority of (farmers) are figuring it out enough to keep them alive, and most of them to get a decent yield this year,” said Katherine Pope, the orchard systems adviser for Yolo County’s Cooperative Extension.
The USDA estimates 2.1 billion pounds of almonds will reach markets this year, up 4.5 percent from last year’s 2 billion-pound haul and up 7.7 percent from May’s low forecast of 1.95 billion.
As demand increases in targeted economies like China and India, new owners and experienced farmers have planted rows and rows of new almond and nut crops. Almond acreage in Yolo County has more than doubled in the past decade, according to the most recent 2012 data available from the county’s agriculture office.
Almond grower Joe Martinez has seen the growth first-hand, witnessing new orchards planted in both Yolo and Solano counties. If normal rains grace California again this winter, next year should be a normal or slightly larger crop, he said.
However, Martinez said he has had some trouble with groundwater quality in one of his Yolo County orchards — the boron concentration was so high he could not follow through with his last planned irrigation.
Still, his farmhands say this year could be a good one, although “it’s kind of hard to tell until we get the stuff shaken on the ground,” je said.
Martinez plans to begin harvesting his almonds on Aug. 4.
— Reach Elizabeth Case at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case