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Challenges of a 2-billion-pound ‘game changer’ almond crop

Growers have reached significant milestones in elevating the yield and quality of California almonds. Average yields have doubled over the last 20 years, thanks to production techniques such as precision irrigation management, high-density planting, soil modifications and improved pruning techniques. Almond growers eye yields that may one day reach 5,000 pounds per acre.

Three veteran almond farm advisors shared their thoughts at this year’s Almond Conference on growing a 2-billion-pound crop, outlining the advances in production practices that helped almond growers get there, and the challenges growers face in producing even larger crops in the future.

Growers have reached significant milestones in elevating the yield and quality of California almonds. Average yields have doubled over the last 20 years, thanks to production techniques such as precision irrigation management, high-density planting, soil modifications and improved pruning techniques, said UC Farm Advisor Emeritus John Edstrom. At the same time, UC IPM Advisor Walt Bentley said advances in winter orchard sanitation have helped slash navel orangeworm reject levels to a record low in 2011–12 of 0.68 percent.

With talk of these successes came words of caution as growers eye yields that may one day reach 5,000 pounds per acre. Farm Advisor Emeritus Mario Viveros said growers must avoid potential pitfalls that can result from high-density plantings and aggressive water and fertilizer management.

For top yields to be cost-effective, said Viveros and Edstrom, the extent of high-density planting must suit soil type and conditions in the orchard. Soil must also be free of water penetration problems and the orchard must have a well-designed irrigation system. Growers will need to further fine-tune irrigation and fertilization techniques and be good horticulturalists to reduce hazards such as the risk of increased Alternaria and hull rot. Even so, with high-density planting, late-spring and summer diseases such as Alternaria are on the increase and often require treatment.

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