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Dry soils gain brief respite from drought

Parched farmland gulped down heaven's liquid manna while farmers stared at 1 to 4 feet of snow accumulation in the high Sierra from the weather system that punched across California in late February. The late winter storm packed brief benefits but opened the door for more storms to move through the state, giving hope of a near-normal irrigation season.

“The system increased the snow pack from 30 percent of normal to 40 percent in the southern Sierra down into the mountains of Kern and Tulare counties,” said Chris Stachelski, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, Calif. “The falling moisture was good news (for agriculture) since soil moisture content has been very dry. The moisture simply kept the area from getting drier.”

Natural Resources Conservation Service water supply specialist Marianne Hallett said the snow pack increased from 43 percent of normal to 46 percent in the San Joaquin through the Kern River basin.

Below average

“We're still way, way, way below average. The winter season continues through March so there is still some hope for additional moisture,” she said.

Deciduous crop growers in Fresno County were thankful for the moisture since irrigation of dry soils had begun, said the county's deputy agricultural commissioner Dennis Plann.

Tulare County agricultural commissioner Gary Kunkel noted rain always falls on the World Ag Expo in Tulare. “The rain is welcome. We need all we can get.”

Hail fell from Dinuba towards Ivanhoe and into the foothills with the most around Fresno. No immediate crop damage was reported. While Tulare County averages 10 inches of rain annually, rain gauge readings are stuck at two inches.

Chico, Calif., almond grower Dan Cummings said the rains hurt more than helped on his 4,000-acre operation in Glenn, Butte and Colusa counties.

“The rain's most significant impact was reduced pollination during the bloom. Cooler weather and moisture reduced active bee numbers that will lower the crop size. While it reduced my cropping potential, it didn't wipe me out,” a grower said.

University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Mark Freeman in Fresno County said moisture reduced almond growers' irrigation needs. The weather pattern also pushed to the forefront the frequency of fungicide applications during the bloom season.

Less fungicide

“Growers think fungicides must be sprayed every time it rains. No they don't,” Freeman said. “If you apply a spray before it rains, then it rains and then rains again three days later, let it go. You don't have to put a spray on every time it rains. Wait 5-7 days and then prolong the intervals before spraying again.”

While most almond trees produce 50,000 plus flowers, Freeman said a 20 to 30 percent fruit set leads to a great crop. “We don't have to protect every last flower.” Fungicide costs $30 to $50 per acre per spray.

Rotating fungicide products is critical to avoid resistance. “The best thing farmers can do is rotating the chemical. The worst thing is applying the same chemical two to four times in a row and building resistance.”

The UCCE publication “2007 Fungicide Efficacy and Treatment Timing” is available online at The “Almond — Fungicide Efficacy” table lists fungicides registered for almond use and the effectiveness on each disease. The “Almond Treatment Timing” table describes common fungal diseases and when to apply treatments for best management.

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