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March freeze hammered almond yields

David Hansen’s almond harvest this season provided dramatic proof of the impact of the March freeze.

His 18-acre orchard is located about six miles northwest of Madera, Calif., and he also works with a neighbor who farms 500 acres of almonds. Their orchards and those of just about every other almond grower within about a 5-mile to 10-mile radius were hit hard by the sub-freezing temperatures, he says.

In his case, the temperature fell to 26 degrees for several hours in the early morning of March 11.

“We got hammered pretty hard in this area,” Hansen says.

Yields of his Nonpareils this year averaged 1,000 pounds per acre, less than half last year’s 2,100 pounds per acre. Sonora yields of 550 pounds per acre represent a 75 percent loss in production from 2,100 pounds in 2008.

He expects even poorer results when he finishes harvesting the Fritz. “Last year, the Fritz trees made 2,300 pounds per acre —this year, we’ll be lucky to get 350 to 400 pounds.”

Meanwhile, Nonpareils in his neighbor’s orchard produced just 750 pounds per acre this season, 2,150 pounds less than last year. Montereys, at 1,500 pounds this year, were only half the 2008 yield.

Frost damage was spotty, Hansen says. Just a mile and a half away away, another neighbor’s almond production was off only about 25 percent to 30 percent this year.

“The frost hit at the worst possible time,” he says. “Right before the frost, we had a big bloom and a lot of nutlets. Two days after the frost, you could cut into the nutlets and they were all black. Any blooms that hadn’t broken the jackets got burned. All of this year’s crop was made on the trees that hadn’t yet bloomed. If the frost had hit 10 days earlier, we wouldn’t have been affected so much.”

The day before the freeze, the wind had been blowing steadily at around 25 miles per hour, Hansen recalls. The evening weather reports predicted overnight lows in the upper 30s. Later that night the wind stopped.

“As soon as it did, the air got cold in a hurry. If I ever see conditions like that again at that time of year, I’ll get the sprinklers going. But, I doubt water would have helped much with the 26-degree temperatures.”

He hasn’t made a marketing decision for this year’s crop. “I’m waiting to see what the state’s production estimate is for Nonpareils to decide whether I want to sell them now and maybe catch the market at the top, or ditch them off into a pool and make a little less.”

Hansen has been pleased with the prices he’s been getting for his young Sonoras, in their fourth year of full production this season. Some growers consider this variety to be alternate bearing, but he hasn’t been growing them long enough to know one way or the other, he says.

“In the time I’ve been marketing them, the Sonoras have been my second highest-valued nut. They’ve paid a little better than some of the other California varieties and have been only about 15 cents a pound below Nonpareil. I can take slightly lower production with Sonoras because I gain that back in the price premium.”

TAGS: Management
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