Current insights from Blue Diamond regarding the California Water Issues as they pertain to the 2014 Almond Crop
Currently, water is the number one topic for farmers throughout California. Reservoir levels are at historic lows, well below seasonal averages. Moreover, the statewide snowpack water content in the Sierra Nevada watershed is estimated at 20% of the normal average.
California’s Governor Jerry Brown recently declared a drought emergency citing a need for conservation efforts as California heads toward what could be the driest year in the history of the state. Brown called for a voluntary reduction in consumption of 20%.
Interview with Mel Machado, Assistant Director of Grower Relations,
What implications can the drought have on the 2014 California almond crop?
An extreme drought can place extensive stress upon the almond trees, thus impacting the 2014 crop, assuming that the grower does not have an adequate supply of water available for his orchards. However, we are anticipating that many growers will be able to get by this year.
In what way can stress effect the crop production?
Extreme stress can have an adverse impact on yields, resulting in a smaller crop and smaller kernel sizes. However, it should be noted that the time period in which the trees undergo stress would dictate the impact on the crop.
If stress occurs during the nut-sizing period, the kernel size is apt to be smaller. This period is generally post bloom through April.
Significant stress from late April through to the end of May, while the nut is solidifying, can have an adverse impact on kernel weight.
After the kernel solidifies, stress imparted on the trees is less consequential. As the crop progresses to the hull split the potential for adverse impact is further reduced. In the end, the degree of stress incurred and the timeframe with which it occurs will ultimately determine the impact on the crop.
What can growers do to mitigate stress on the trees?
If a grower is faced with having less water than would be optimally supplied to their orchard, there are several tools that they can use to measure the degree of stress within the trees. However, university researchers are telling us that if a grower does not have an adequate supply of water, the best thing to do is to spread what they have evenly throughout the growing season.
What are the potential side effects from excessive stress to the almond trees?
Excessive stress can cause the trees to defoliate or lose their leaves. Spur and bud development can also be affected, which can impact the following year’s crop, depending on the severity of the stress.
What can you expect with regard to the water situation for the almond orchards moving forward?
There are many variables. What we know today can change significantly should we see a different weather pattern than what we have experienced thus far. Growers with privately owned deep wells would supplement their needs as possible with ground water. However, the water table continues to drop throughout the Central Valley and the quality of the ground water in some areas is questionable.
What we do know is that growers receiving their water from the federal Central Valley Project have been told that they will receive no water this year. Last year’s allocation was 20% of contracted amounts. In recent times, deliveries from the federal system have ranged from 20% to 50%. Growers in the federal system were recently informed that they would be able to access “carry-over” water that was saved from the 2013 irrigation season and banked in reservoirs. These growers had been concerned that the Bureau of Reclamation was going to divert their carry-over water to other uses. The allocation from the State Water Project was set at 5%, but has also been recently changed to zero for growers in the San Joaquin Valley. We have also yet to see what actions many of the local irrigation districts will take with regard to water allocations. Some districts are reporting that they may be able to deliver adequate water levels for the 2014 season, while others are projecting significant cut backs in the amount they will deliver. Growers that rely on District water have been told to anticipate substantial reductions ranging from no water availability to upward of 65% of normal supplies, depending on the District.
Where possible, growers are taking matters into their own hands to purchase water from various sources to supplement their supply. It is a certainty that we’ll see stressed orchards and possibly lighter kernels due to not being able to secure adequate irrigation water in certain locations in our state. The only thing that will help the current situations is a wet spring, and current weather predictions are not favorable.