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Pistachio grower manages risks

“Except for the mid-April freeze, this has been one of the better years for growing pistachios,” says Tom Coleman, Fresno, Calif., of his 27th crop.

Coleman Farming Co. LLC grows pistachios on 680 acres of its own land and manages another 700 acres for several other producers in Fresno and Madera counties.

Lack of spring rains reduced pressures from stink bugs, which haven’t posed much a problem for Coleman this year. Based on results of trapping to date, he doesn’t expect large numbers of navel orangeworm, either. Dry weather at bloom also helped suppress botrytis blight, while continued low rainfall has kept botryosphaeria blight in check.

“I’m 99 percent sure that, unless we start getting pretty regular rains, we won’t be doing any fungicide sprays this season,” Coleman says.

However, the damage caused by the April frost, which hit right at bloom, ranks as one of the worst he’s experienced.

“It completely eliminated the crop on quite a few acres,” Coleman says. “At first, it didn’t look that bad, but a week later the trees didn’t look so good. After two weeks, they looked pretty bad, and by the third week they looked horrible. Still, I don’t think the freezing temperatures lasted long enough to hurt future production — in fact, I’m looking for a good, heavy crop from those trees next year.”

In July, Coleman finished planting 160 acres of the new Gold Hills variety, developed at the University of California. This diversification will reduce the risks of any threat that may hit his Kermans, which make up the rest of his orchards. And, Gold Hills will help spread out the work load at harvest.

“This new variety ripens about two weeks earlier than Kerman,” he says. “An earlier harvest will also reduce exposure to navel orangeworm.”

To stretch limited water supplies this year for his drip irrigation systems, Coleman has removed the emitters from either side of his 12-year or older male trees. “These mature trees are providing enough pollen, and we really don’t need as many male trees as we do in younger orchards. This may only save a few gallons per acre, but it all adds up.”

Coleman makes the most of his water by keeping pumps in tip-top shape and by using flow meters to monitor operation of each pump several times a week. That helps spot any needed repairs before a pump fails.

To help reduce price risks, Coleman he his crop among four different processors, based on which offers the best deal. But, rather than compare payments from each processor in terms of market price based on quality of load samples, he evaluates the price he receives based on gross green weight of the load.

“This provides a more accurate way to compare the actual value of each crop among the different processors,” Coleman explains. “Because I use the same harvesting company and load each truck the same way, I’m delivering pretty much the same crop to each processor, and I want to know what they are actually paying me for each truckload. The way a processor takes and handles a 20-pound sample from your truck can make a big difference in the total amount of money you receive.

“One processor may be paying, say, $35,000 for a load, while another is paying $5,000 more for a nearly identical load. Those figures give me a better way to compare their prices. I won’t eliminate any processor based on a single year’s return, but this information does help me decide what percentage of my crop to send to each processor.”

TAGS: Tree Nuts
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