By DENNIS WYATT
There’s a lot of tree shaking and dust being kicked up.
That’s typical for an almond harvest.
But what isn’t typical is the timing. The harvest has been in full swing for more than eight days. That’s upwards of three weeks earlier than normal.
Above average temperatures this summer are being blamed by a number of growers for the onset of an early almond harvest.
The early report among Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon growers is that the crop size is off but in many cases the nuts per se are larger than normal.
Almonds are the third largest crop in San Joaquin County and are grown almost primarily in the Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon area. The almond crop came in at $300 million in 2013. It ranked as the third biggest crop countywide with overall farm production at $2.8 million.
David Phippen, a Manteca grower that also processes nuts for other growers and markets them worldwide through Travaille and Phippen is quoted in Ag Alert — the weekly newspaper for California agriculture — as saying the Nonpareil crop could be off as much as 15 percent.
Growers in the South San Joaquin Irrigation District had adequate water for their almond trees despite being in the fourth year of a severe drought.
University of California researchers in the spring expressed concern about the absence of sufficient “chilling temperatures” that play a role in helping crops set.
Phippen is quoted as saying while growers recorded 500 hours of chill — roughly midway between the minimum and maximum needed — the temperature rose rapidly in the daytime. It wasn’t usual this year in late winter for the nighttime lows to go from the 30s to the high 70s in the daytime. Normally temperatures when almonds are setting in the South County rarely top 70 degrees.
SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said the district has also been hearing reports of the crop being off upwards of 15 percent.
Shields said that will translate into some small water savings this season but not much.
Federal agricultural experts are forecasting the California almond harvest will be down 4 percent from last year’s 1.8 billion pounds.
Other crops such as grapes are also facing earlier than normal harvest due more so to the temperatures than the drought.
Napa Valley’s grape harvest is already in full swing although growers are reporting a normal-size crop.
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