“There may be a few guys still out there still playing with things, but the almond harvest is effectively done by the end of October,” according to Mel Machado of Blue Diamond growers.
And this year, because of the anticipated record increase in poundage, those extra pounds leave a lot of nuts in stockpiles, awaiting the arrival of huller-sheller trucks — a wait that could present problems.
A wide-ranging conversation with Machado and USDA entomologist Joel Siegel revealed some concerns.
“It’s not unusual for almonds to be stockpiled at some facilities, it’s a normal part of their operation because it tends to make the harvest easier,” said Machado. “While you’re picking up the crop, you don’t have to worry about the hauling chain breaking down where if somebody ahead of you breaks down and trucks get stranded at their place, you’re stuck stranded waiting for those trucks.
“The issue I have with stockpiling this year has to do with weather conditions that we’ve had from mid-August on where tropical storms brought lightning strikes that created fires and the resulting overcast conditions that reduced sunlight in the orchard forests,” he said.
“We wound up with some higher-than-we’d-like-to-see hull moisture levels and I’m concerned about the stockpiles in relation to the amount of moisture in those hulls.”
With hullers frequently backlogged, some facilities are already bringing in field piles to avoid any additional weather impact and almonds already stockpiled are being vented.
“After the piles have been tarped and fumigated, the plastic needs to be pulled back to ensure any existing moisture in the hulls is allowed to escape,” Machado said. “This is just business as usual although this year there’s a bit more of that business, more piles out there with a bit higher moisture in the hulls than I’d like to see.”
With more almonds in this year’s piles, entomologist Siegel advised extra vigilance because of the heavy crop.
“Expect things to happen sooner rather than later,” he warned.
Not only have growers had to keep an eye on price fluctuations of their product, watching Nonpareil dip into the $1.60 range before rebounding to just over $2, they’ve had to keep a really close eye on production costs, looking to cut some corners to bump up any profit margins, perhaps in some cases cutting back on their sprays.
“If you were looking at your traps and seeing fairly low navel orangeworm damage all through July and breathing a sigh of relief, NOW populations shot up about the third week in August when trap catches began to spike,” Siegel said. “From that point onward, you might be catching four, perhaps five, times as many moths as you were a month ago. And with such a large nut crop this year, damage hasn’t been assessed yet with many of these almonds still in the stacks that haven’t made it to the huller-sheller.”
Ventilating those stack piles can’t be emphasized enough. “Condensation is a big issue that can bring on mold and aspergillis can explode,” he said. “It’s a big unknown at this point about how good a job people are doing ventilating the stacks and with a bumper crop to be processed and everything being slowed down because of that volume, we don’t really have a great idea how things will turn out yet.
“The almond industry is aware that the foundation of navel orangeworm control is sanitation — everything begins with it — sand prevention is easier than playing catchup because you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.”
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