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Pest pressure light, almonds set for another record year

Everyone from the grower to the consumer is jumping on the almond bandwagon these days. Prices are good. Growers are optimistic.

Acreage is up, and global marketing efforts so far seem to be working. That’s a good thing, considering the ’07 crop will likely be another barn burner.

“It wouldn’t surprise me in the least – or anyone else – if it’s the biggest crop we’ve ever had,” says Gary Osteen, independent PCA in Kern County.

“There are 4-5 year old trees that had to be tied earlier this spring to keep the trunks and branches from splitting because the crop was so heavy. We had good chilling hours over the winter, but the real kicker was the long, dry bloom period.”

The “subjective forecast” for the 2007 almond crop is 1.310 billion pounds, shelled basis, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s up 18 percent from the 2006 crop of approximately 1.109 billion pounds to date.

“We still have new plantings going in,” says Marsha Venable, assistant manager, marketing services, with the Almond Board of California. “We now have 615,000 bearing acres. By 2010 we should have 680,000 or more bearing acres.”

The statistics almost beg the question, “How is the industry going to continue to move an ever-growing supply?”

The markets are there and they look strong, according to Venable. “The emerging markets are China, India and Korea,” she says.

Ample chilling hours and the relatively dry winter/spring set the scene for the current crop load and, so far, the crop seems to have escaped almost all concerns about early season disease pressure.

“There were a lot of trees that only had one fungicide application, and a lot more that didn’t even have one,” Osteen says.

In spite of the hullabaloo about the bee situation in the Valley, even that didn’t have an appreciable effect on pollination and set.

“If you looked at the hives earlier this spring, they didn’t seem that strong – but again, the long, dry pollination season and perfect temperatures seem to have counteracted whatever problems the hives might have been having,” Osteen says.”

Overall pest pressure remains relatively light thus far, at least in Kern County.

“Mites haven’t been a big problem in my area, except for a few cases on the west side of Kern County,” Osteen says. “Last year, the leaf-footed plant bug was scaring everyone, but we haven’t seen it yet this year.”

However, the situation could bear watching as the season progresses, he says. “We didn’t have any foggy weather this year in Kern or Tulare counties, so we have a lot more mummies on the trees, which could lead to problems with navel orangeworm in the fall. We’ve just finished spraying for peach twig borer, which helps with navel orangeworm. We’ll treat for it again at hull split, but we hardly ever get better than 50 percent control, so I’m warning my growers it could be a problem.”

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