Severe drought has left California nut growers searching for solutions to help ensure successful harvests despite mounting hardships that stifle production. “Faced with severe water shortages, growers of nut crops such as almonds, walnuts and pistachios are making tough decisions that include removing orchards, using just enough irrigation to keep their trees alive, or taking their chances with growing a crop.” A bit of a respite came after rainfall in late February and early March, however reserve levels remain critically low.

Prolonged drought conditions have forced many growers to remove entire blocks of producing trees. The economic impact from loss of jobs and profits will continue to burden growers and laborers for many years to come. Additionally, the California Central Valley Project does not have enough water to deliver allowances to farmers, which means that growers must look to alternative sources for irrigation supplies. Unfortunately, “many of the country’s almond acres are in areas with little to no surface water this year. Instead, farmers must rely on water wells that pump lesser quality water that is high in harmful salt.” These contaminated irrigation supplies exacerbate nutrient burn, resulting in slow growth and low levels of production.   

Crop consultants like WRT (http://www.wrtag.com/) work with growers to establish programs that address irrigation issues and keep trees in the ground instead of removing them and diverting limited water resources to younger, better producing blocks.  By watering every 30-40 days rather than every 10, growers stress the trees and sacrifice this year’s crop in hopes of securing bigger harvests in the future. Targeting watering and crop nutrition during critical periods throughout the growth cycle helps reduce stress and divert energy to production during flowering   

A WRT spokesperson also noted that farmers need customized programs that maintain or restore life in soils of orchards. Growers who have chosen to stress their orchards this season may be able to beat the drought and produce a harvest if their soils are conditioned to support life with less water. Lively and active soils support the most productive growth, especially when plants are stressed. Healthy soils with active humus layers retain water and nutrients better, which affords better growth with reduced fertilizer and irrigation inputs. 

WRT has recommended Bio S.I. Technology’s (http://www.biositechnology.com/) microbial formulas to help rebuild soil naturally. The claim is that the microbes penetrate damaged, crusted soils to loosen aggregates and repopulate beneficial microbes, and microbes breakdown and decompose organic waste and produce carbon, which is readily absorbed as CO2 by growing crops. 

Thus, before making the decision to remove producing trees, growers must ask themselves if they have done all they can to rebuild life in the soils and enhance the trees’ natural defenses to the effects of prolonged drought, damaged soils and chemical leaching.