Posts Tagged: almonds
California almonds are on a roll. In the last 20 years, scientific discovery and grower ingenuity have nearly doubled almond per-acre productivity. A good yield in the 1980s was 1,400 pounds per acre. The average yield for 2011 was 2,670 pounds of shelled almonds per acre.
Forty years ago, California farmers produced less than 100 million pounds of almonds on about 200,000 acres of almond orchards. Mechanization, improved irrigation efficiency, advances in insect and disease management, pruning research and fertilization studies have fueled explosive growth in the industry. Farmers in California’s Central Valley now tend 760,000 acres of almond trees, producing about 2 billion pounds of shelled nuts a year. The crop, which represents 100 percent of U.S. almond production and 75 to 80 percent of world production, was valued in 2011 at $3.87 billion, surpassing table, wine and raisin grapes, which were valued at $3.86 billion.
“Even with this record production, we have more demand than we have supply,” said Bob Curtis of the Almond Board. “The driver behind that is nutrition studies that show almonds are a healthy food and snack.”
A tremendous amount of UC research is behind the California almond success story, said Bruce Lampinen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, an expert in almond canopy management.
“Higher density plantings of almonds and a trend towards less pruning, and improved water management have led to much higher yields,” Lampinen said.
Many almond growers have replaced flood irrigation with micro-sprinkler or drip irrigation, said Larry Schwankl, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis. Schwankl is based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. These irrigation systems increase the precision of water and fertilizer application. Over the years, UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists established demonstrations of micro-sprinkler and drip systems in many parts of the Central Valley and reached out to farmers to show how they could be managed to optimize production.
“Twenty years ago, we simply guessed at the amount of water that the trees needed and we applied it on a calendar basis,” said Joe MacIlvaine, president of Paramount Farming Company in Kern County, one of the state’s largest growers of almonds, pistachios and pomegranates. “Today, we are delivering water and nutrients directly to the root zones when they are needed.”
Two decades ago, a granular form of nitrogen fertilizer was generally applied to almond orchards in the fall to allow winter rain and irrigation to move it into the soil for use by the trees in spring and early summer. Nitrogen use efficiency was believed to be about 40 percent. Now, nitrogen fertilizer is applied through the irrigation system during the growing season, when the tree needs it.
“Today, our nitrogen use efficiency can be as high as 85 percent,” said Blake Sanden, UCCE advisor in Kern County, an irrigation expert. He and Patrick Brown, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, have conducted nitrogen trials in almonds with Paramount Farming.
“When you increase the conversion of applied nitrogen fertilizer to higher crop yield, there is significantly less potential for nitrogen to leach below the rootzone and contaminate groundwater,” Sanden said. “But each field is unique and requires site-specific management to achieve these high levels of efficiency.”
Another area where UC research has led to significant crop yield growth is in canopy management and tree spacing. Research by Mario Viveros, UCCE advisor emeritus in Kern County, and other scientists showed that a tendency among growers to over prune was taking a toll at harvest time.
“A lot of farmers who are now growing almonds had experience with fresh fruits, where you do need to prune to get light on the fruit for good color. In almonds more canopy generally means more yield,” Lampinen said. “Today, most almond growers only prune when branches are growing in the way of tractors or other equipment.”
UC research also found that orchards planted with traditional wide spacing between the trees weren’t making the most efficient use of sunlight on the farms. Older orchards had 60 to 70 trees per acre. Today, almond orchards are planted at an average density of about 110 trees per acre based on results of UC research.
However, studies have also shown that crowding still more trees into orchards triggers diminishing returns. In almond production, the nuts are shaken from the trees to dry on the ground before they are harvested.
“If the orchard floor becomes too shaded by trees planted too densely, the orchard floor temperature and humidity become optimal for growth of pathogens that could become a food safety problem,” Lampinen said. “You want enough sunlight to hit the orchard floor to reduce potential pathogens, like salmonella.”
MacIlvaine acknowledged the role of UC Cooperative Extension in helping the almond industry achieve the production milestone in 2011.
“The University of California has been a wonderful partner in improving our farming practices,” he said. “The whole system is not only more efficient, but more sustainable at the same time.”
Hear more of MacIlvaine's comments in the video posted below:
When you first see the leaffooted bug, you know immediately how it got its name.
The appendages on its feet look like leaves!
This morning we saw one in our catmint (Nepeta) patch. It crawled beneath the tiny leaves, sharing space with honey bees, European wool carder bees, butterflies and assorted spiders.
Tonight scores of them stormed our pomegranate tree. In fact, they made the immature fruit their kitchen, living room and bedroom.
Although the leaffooted bug (Leptoglossus clypealis) is a pest of pistachios and almonds, we've never seen it on our pomegranate tree until today. Our tree, planted in 1927--back when Herbert Hoover was the U.S. president--has few pests. One year white flies attacked it mercilessly. Tonight leaffooted bugs claimed squatters' rights.
The adult bug is about an inch long with a white or yellow zigzag across its back. Shades of Zorro! Its most distinctive feature, however, are the leaflike appendages on its feet.
Back in 2009, integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, co-authored UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines on the leaffooted bug as it pertains to almonds. Zalom and his colleagues called attention to their needlelike mouthparts. The adults feed on young nuts "before the shell hardens." And after the nut is developed, "leaffooted bug feeding can still cause black spots on the kernel or wrinkled, misshapen nutmeats."
As for our pomegranate tree, we're not sure how well these leaffooted bugs can probe the tough, leathery fruit.
We open the pomegranates with a serrated knife...
Close-up of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leaffooted bugs making pomegranates their kitchen, living room and bedroom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beady eyes, colorful antennae and appendages on its feet that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."--John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra
Ecologist Louie Yang of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, tags that quote at the end of each email.
On that note, did you catch the Feb. 14th National Public Radio piece on "Why California Almonds Need North Dakota Flowers (And a Few Million Bees)?"
"Here's the web of connections: a threat to California's booming almond business; hard times for honey bees in North Dakota; and high corn prices," Dan Charles said.
The gist of it:
Every year, bees from 1.6 million of the nation's hives are trucked into California to pollinate the 750,000 acres of almonds. Since the almond pollination season is brief--a few weeks in mid-February--the bees need someplace to thrive after the bloom ends. Many beekeepers head to North Dakota's federally funded government program, the Conservation Reserve Program, where flowers bloom all summer long. Basically, Uncle Sam leases land from the farmers to help the bees thrive.
Now, however, North Dakota farmers are finding it more profitable to grow corn than put their land in the Conservation Reserve Program.
"The amount of North Dakota land in the Conservation Reserve, meanwhile, has declined by a third over the past five years," said Charles. "This year, it's expected to take another plunge, perhaps down to half what it was its peak."
So, bottom line, California almonds--and the nation's bees--are tied to the North Dakota's Conservation Reserve Program.
As Charles correctly pointed out: "This is not just a beekeeper's problem anymore. ...the prosperity of almond growers...depends on what happens to bees on the lonely northern Plains."
To get a really good grasp of the situation, read Hannah Nordhaus' excellent book, "The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America."
NPR interviewed some of the very migratory beekeepers that Nordhaus interviewed.
Honey bee heading for an almond blossom on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging in almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
At last, the Laidlaw almonds are in bloom.
That would be the almond trees on the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis.
And no one appreciates this more than the bees holed up in the 40 hives behind the facility. The bees are getting ready for the big spring build-up, and what's a spring build-up without almonds?
The bees are hungry. Very hungry. If you take a photo of the almond blooms, you'll see how hungry they are. Sometimes you get five bees in one photo.
So, it was with great interest that we read a news story in today's Business Journal, Fresno, that was headlined "New Almond Promises Independence from Bees."
Independence, you ask? Are bees declaring their independence from almonds? No. The piece in The Business Journal concerned the "Independence almond." Wrote reporter Chuck Harvey in the lede: "The Independence almond — a self-fertile variety needing few bees to produce numerous large nuts — is creating a buzz among almond growers."
"Created by Zaiger Genetics Inc., the Independence almond was released in 2008. Dave Wilson Nursery, which holds the patent on the trees, has a producing Independence almond orchard in Modesto."
Basically, it's an early-blooming, self-fertile almond described in the news story as "a large high-grade commercial quality almond with a soft shell," according to the CEO of Dave Wilson Nursery. And it "blanches well."
You'll want to read more about it, and what the Almond Board of California, beekeepers, and growers have to say about it.
One thing's for sure: we need stronger, healthier bees, or we'll all in trouble.
Honey bees foraging in almonds on the grounds of the Laidlaw facility. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Five bees foraging on the almonds on the Laidlaw facility grounds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Valentine's Day traditionally marks the beginning of almond pollination season, but it's an early spring. The almonds are blooming and the bees are buzzing.
So, first the tweets, then the buzzes.
CNN Money, New York, came out Feb. 7 with a news story headlined "Honeybee Die-Off Shouldn't Sting." The Almond Board linked to it in its tweet.
The piece, written by Steve Hargreaves, explored the "good news and bad news on the honeybee beat."
Hargreaves said that colony collapse disorder (CCD) continues to claim about 30 percent of the nation's bees every winter. That's the bad news. The good news, he said, is that "beekeepers have been able to rejuvenate their hives each year so that by summer, the population is back to previous levels."
And "another bit of good news," Hargreaves pointed out, is that although agricultural yields are rising and "rejuvenating beehives is costly," the higher costs aren't being transferred in the supermarket.
Hargreaves quoted UC Davis agricultural economist Daniel Sumner as saying "It shouldn't be a significant item on the radar screen of consumers. It's not that big of a deal."
So, there you have it. Bees are in trouble. Almond production is up (about 750,000 acres in California and each acre requires two hives for pollination). And, demand for almonds is up. California now produces 80 percent of the world's almonds.
Meanwhile, honey bee guru and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is repeatedly asked "How are the bees doing?" He writes a bi-monthly from the UC Apiaries newsletter and the periodic Bee Briefs, both posted on the Department of Entomology website.
Mussen attributes CCD (a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive) to a combination of factors, including parasites, pesticides, pests, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
It continues to amaze us, however, what some folks think is causing CCD. They're looking for a silver bullet. There is none.
The arguments can get ugly. As debates continue to rage in the CNN Money commentary section, one reader, obviously exasperated, posted "...the writers in this place don't know anything about the realms of science, economics or ecology. And 90 percent of the posters aren't very bright, either."
Meanwhile, the bees are busy pollinating almonds.
Honey bee pollinating almonds in Vacaville. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee cleaning her tongue as she heads for the next blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Peek-a-bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Up, up and away. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)