Be proactive in keeping your almond crops disease-free

Fall has been wonderful for many years in the almond business, usually reaping big yields of the high value crop and getting a big check. However, as all growers know, the industry has been through tough times, with falling prices being the main culprit.

Add to that the huge shipping issues, rising input costs, supply chain disruptions and dwindling water resources, and growers are in a place many have never been before.

According to field representatives from a few large companies who work closely with growers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, many growers are going to have to plan carefully for the first time. Kevin Caffrey, Technical Services Representative, Southern San Joaquin Valley for BASF, says almond growers just didn’t need to be so careful in the past when nuts were worth $5 a pound.

“For a long time people had a plan, but that plan was basically, ‘Do the same thing they did for the last decade.’ You make money anyway, whether you spray or not,” he says. “When we had five dollar nuts, you could do pretty much anything you wanted and still make money. “

Now that prices have more than halved, growers can’t afford to be so cavalier, Caffrey says.

“We’re all hoping to see crazy $4 to $5, but $2.50 is more realistic, so let’s plan for success next year this year,” he says. “Everything is planned. Consider each step and how your trees performed. Compare their performance to where they should have been.

POST-HARVEST POINTS

Right after harvest is the perfect time to start planning for next year, agrees Garrett Gilcrease, agronomy service representative at Syngenta, which is also based in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

“In normal years, growers would look at the quality of the crop – how much damage NOW (navel orangeworm) they have. But because of the lower prices, the price premiums are also lower and not worth it compared to to the $40 (per acre) saved (omitting a NOW spray),” he says. “If you farm in California, costs are always an issue, but this year input costs are much higher and raw material prices are much lower Costs are still a concern, but they are the number one concern this year.

Coming out of the harvest is a time of evaluation, says Gilcrease. Start by looking at the overall health of the trees, paying particular attention to root diseases, which are often fatal. If you suspect a disease, be sure to test for diseases such as phytophthora. Right now, during the fall hunt when temperatures dip below 90°F, is the perfect time to treat phytophthora, he says, and it’s best to bite the bullet and do it.

Phytophthora infection of an almond tree root. Note the redness and peeling root skin with little structure.
Photo by Garrett Gilcrease, Syngenta

“Yes, yields and prices are low, and there is not much money left on the table. But these illnesses can last a long time,” he says. “If nuts come back to $3, you don’t want to get caught with 60% returns.”

Gilcrease says it recommends growers treat their trees in the fall with Ridomil Gold or Orondis (Syngenta) fungicide. But he knows that to save money, most growers will probably only spray in the spring, especially if it’s as dry as expected. If he only sprays in early spring, he recommends Orondis. Although more expensive, it is a better product.

WALL TO WALL TREES

Caffrey agrees that the disease should be the center of attention at this time of year. Disease levels are generally on the rise because almond cultivation has changed in the valley, where blocks of orchards stretch for miles after miles, virtually uninterrupted.

“Nut agronomy has changed. Planting density, size, everything changes,” he says. “There are still 20-acre growers with 50-year-old trees, but far fewer than before.”

If growers find a disease, Caffrey recommends spraying Merivon Fungicide (BASF), which also provides trees with physiological benefits, especially during the fall frosts that Sacramento Valley growers have faced in recent years.

“This [Merivon fungicide] allows plants to better handle stress. It is not a magic product. If temperatures drop to single digits, it won’t save the tree. But it can help for a few degrees,” he says. “It’s for both disease control and plant health, as it helps the tree access nitrogen and other nutrients.”

Having a plan will help, though Caffrey says he doesn’t envy growers who have to make tough decisions about whether to spray when times are so tight and new products, while highly effective, aren’t cheap.

“They’re trying to save a dollar, but they might lose $20,” he says.



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