Hard frost devastates tree crops in the valley

By Kevin Hecteman

Almond farmer Tim Taylor, above, cuts an almond blossom to check for frost damage.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

This nut is dead.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

This nut is always good.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Sutter County almond grower Tim Taylor collects blossoms from peerless, Butte and Carmel almond trees near Live Oak to test if the developing nutlets survived a hard freeze that hit the Central Valley in late February . Last week, he estimated an overall loss of 60% of production.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Tim Taylor walked through one of his almond orchards in Sutter County last week, harvesting blossoms from the trees for samples. A cold spell in late February had plunged much of the Sacramento Valley into record-breaking territory, and Taylor was there to assess the damage.

“Every flower can produce an almond,” Taylor said. “When that freeze hits and they develop, when they’re younger – when they’re brand new – you can get a little colder with them. But once they start developing like that” – he cut a flower to check the developing nut – “you see that black inside? That means it’s frozen. It froze and it died.”

The toll just added up. Taylor estimates that 60% of his orchard was damaged by frost, potentially decimating his yield. This was discouraging news after expectations of a bountiful year.

“We had a wonderful month of February,” Taylor said. “We had a lot of hot days this year, the bees were working hard, and we thought we were going to have a bumper crop this year. It looked pretty damn good until all of a sudden he decided to freeze for four days.”

Similar scenes are playing out in the Central Valley, where temperatures hit the low to mid-20s for most of Presidents Day week.

“With each passing day, or each passing week, you lose frost tolerance,” said Mel Machado, Director of Member Relations at Blue Diamond Growers. “In full bloom, I think 28 is the magic number; anything 28 (degrees) or less in full bloom, I’m going to start seeing some damage.”

Machado said it was too early to know the total crop losses. “The first clue of what’s going to be hanging in the trees is normally towards the end of March, and the first clue of what you might actually harvest is the end of April,” he said.

Kelly Evans, Taylor’s wife, said she needed to see what the trees would lose over the next month. Preliminary estimates show a wide range from “pretty good” to “complete loss” in some orchards.

“Is the tree going to drop the stuff that’s been burned, or will it drop some of the good nuts that are left? We don’t know yet,” Evans said. “We are in a waiting period for the next 30 days to determine what will be left of the crops.”

Glenn County also suffered its share of damage. Mike Vereschagin, who grows almonds near Orland, said flowering was about 10 days earlier than last year.

“We had one of the best blooms we’ve had in a long time,” Vereschagin said. “The potential was for a huge crop this year, and the frost took all that away here.”

Many growers have rented helicopters to try to warm the trees, he added.

“It looked like a military area there with all the helicopters flying, trying to bring the warmer air down from above into the orchards,” Vereschagin said.

For this to work, there must be an inversion layer; Machado said it was mild to non-existent this time.

“A guy told me he had a helicopter at 200 feet before he found anything hot,” Machado said. “It’s useless. You have to get air 30, 40 feet from the canopies for it to work.”

When a frost is forecast, farmers can use water to control damage, up to a point.

“If I know it’s getting cold, I’ll come here at 10:30 p.m., or midnight, or 2 a.m., and we’ll start irrigating,” Taylor said. The water coming out of the ground is 50 to 52 degrees, he added, and can raise the temperature in the orchard by a degree or two the same way hot water from a shower warms a room. of bath.

“If it’s only 30 degrees, you can do just fine,” Taylor said. “But like last week we had 25, 26 degrees here. You can only raise it a few degrees. You’re at 28 degrees, and it’s just starting to take its toll.”

Farm commissioners have been collecting data to support a possible disaster declaration. Growers in counties declared disaster areas have access to relief programs through the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Lisa Herbert, Sutter County Agriculture Commissioner, said the disaster threshold is 30% damage countywide, and that can span up to five counties.

“We know for sure that almonds have problems, but there are preliminary reports that we might see damage in prunes as well,” Herbert said. “It’s pretty early to tell, but those are the things we’re going to look at moving forward.”

Colusa County Agriculture Commissioner Anastacia Allen said the first step was to document everything. She and Herbert encouraged farmers with damage reports to contact the office or visit their websites.

“As the season progresses, we will work with (University of California Cooperative) Extension and other experts in the field to confirm that, yes, this is going to be a loss, that they are completely lost at this point. ,” Allen mentioned. “It’s very early days, but yeah, it looks like the losses are going to be quite severe.”

(Kevin Hecteman is associate editor of Ag Alert. He can be reached at [email protected])

Permission for use is granted, however, credit should be given to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this article.

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