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Almond growers: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow
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The rain is normally an unwelcome visitor for almond growers when the spring season finally starts to bloom.

But with a bone dry winter causing many to take an early delivery of irrigation water out of fear that the balmy conditions would lead to a reduced crop yield or, in extreme cases, dead or severely damaged trees, the storms now moving through the Central Valley are being greeted with  smiles from growers.

Richard Phillips – who farms almonds on the north side of Manteca – took water when it first became available in January and just finished watching the rows of his orchards get a second, much-needed delivery.

Even though Mother Nature’s delivery of moisture wasn’t enough to take care of all of his water needs, Phillips says that it’s a bonus and will add to the precious snowpack that directly translates into what is available for irrigation later in the season. It is something that was a concern for takers of the early winter run.

“Normally we don’t like much rain, but we do now. It’s been such a dry year and hopefully this will add to the snowpack and allow us to get back onto a regular irrigation schedule,” Phillips said. “We just irrigated yesterday and today you can walk through the rows and won’t get muddy.

“We had testers that were down four feet in certain places, and there was no moisture down there at the start of the season. We really needed that early water.”

For Dave Phippen – who oversees a complete almond growing, packing and shipping operation – the two inches of rain that the last storm brought and the precipitation expected throughout the week should allow for a delay before he needs to take his next irrigation delivery.

Measures taken at the end of last season might have helped stave off the critically dry levels, he said.

But having elected officials on the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board planning for the worst case scenario, he said, improves the prospects for all growers and members of the district that rely on the deliveries to irrigate their crops. Even so, Phippen has well backups just in case.

“We had a pretty late post-harvest irrigation on most of our ranches last year,” Phippen said. “We still took that January delivery on some of them because when they’re in the middle of bloom like they where they need to be irrigated. We’re always looking to have the utmost in production, and if we see if the profile is starting to dry at the top we need to add water.

“I’m also interested in the snow survey and how these storms have affected the totals at the higher elevation. Hopefully we’ll have something better than worst case – we have people that are there to plan for the worst case. Hopefully they’ll have better news for us.”