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Early almond harvest thanks to drought
Almonds knocked off the trees dry naturally in the sun at an orchard in rural south Manteca, a process that takes anywhere from a few days up to two weeks. The nuts are in the process of being windrowed, after which they will be gathered by pickup machines that will take them to a huller facility. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The hum of harvest machines in San Joaquin County’s almond orchards started two weeks ahead of schedule this year.

Credit goes to a warm and dry spring which expedited the early harvesting of the county’s $468 million crop that made it number one in 2013’s Top 10 crops by value, according to the latest San Joaquin County Agricultural Report.

Expect to hear the sounds of these purring heavy machines, and to see billowing dusts swirling above the trees in the orchards up to October when almond growers will be knocking off the later varieties to wrap up this year’s harvest.

Thanks to the warmest winter on record for California, the almonds began blooming early in February, making it one of the earliest almond blooms in memory, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Statistics Service. This weather phenomenon prompted another rare occurrence in the almond orchards – irrigation in winter. That lack of winter precipitation was somewhat relieved by rain in the early season, but that relief was only temporary.

The same statistical source released in May reported that the 2014 California almond production coming from the state’s 860,000 almond-bearing total acreage is 1.95 billion pounds, a yield that is 2.5 percent lower than the 2 billion pounds production of 2013. Forecasted yield production per acre this year at 2,270 pounds is also lower than the 2013 figures of 2,380 pounds an acre.

Almond’s rise to the top position among San Joaquin County’s agricultural crops in 2013 is significant considering it was number four in 2012 with a crop value of $300 million. The top crop during that year was grapes with a value of $554 million. That figure tumbled down to $441 million in 2013 placing grapes at number three in the magic Top Ten.

Most of the nearly 50,000 acres of almond in production in San Joaquin County are near or around Escalon, Ripon, Manteca, and west Tracy.

The county’s Top Ten crops in 2013, in descending order: are almonds, walnuts, grapes, milk, cherries, tomatoes, hay, cattle and calves, silage corn, and grain corn.