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Almonds: Whole lot of shaking going on
A helicopter crop duster preparing to spray a corn field near Oleander Avenue with Mount Diablo in the distance. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The mercury is close to hitting the century mark. It’s hot. And the air is dry.

At this time of the year, these weather conditions all conspire against the corn in the fields. It’s a perfect season for spiders and mites to thrive among the dry stalks. And that’s bad news for feed-crop farmers like Arnold “Butch” Rothlin and wife Rose. Left to weave their webs and live in wild abandon among the stalks, the hungry and destructive arachnids will happily feast on the healthy corn threatening the quality of the crop and eventually affecting the farmer’s pocketbook.

“So you have to spray them, if it looks like (the weather) is going dry,” Butch Rothlin said, explaining why the plane and helicopter crop dusters were busy all weekend at the corn fields all around Manteca’s southwest countryside.

The drone of the flying metals dominated the otherwise quiet surroundings of the areas around Airport Way and Union Road south of the Highway 120 Bypass. West of Airport Way, the Machado corn fields were being sprayed by a small yellow airplane. The fields around Union Road and Oleander Avenue east of Airport Way were the target of the clackety-clacking helicopter crop duster.

An airplane needs a lot more room to turn around, which is why the sparsely populated area west of Airport Way was suitable for the plane crop duster.

“Planes are good for big fields,” Rothlin said.

A plane would have a hard time maneuvering around houses, which is the case in the areas around Oleander Avenue and Union Road just south of Woodward Avenue where the Rothlins’ corn fields are located.

“That’s why I have a helicopter,” even though “helicopters are a little bit more expensive,” added Rothlin who, with wife Rose, farm nearly 600 acres in the Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop areas.

Compared to previous years though, “it’s been pretty cool this summer actually; we did not have many hot days,” Rothlin said.

“It’s been pretty mild. It rained up until June and it was cold in the spring. That’s why all crops are kind of late this year. The corn was late because I had wheat, and it takes a while for wheat to get harvested,” he said.

The ones that were mostly affected by the unseasonal cold spring were the row crops, he said.

“I don’t know about (almond and walnut) trees or grapes, but everything else was late this year – tomatoes, corn, alfalfa, pumpkins, watermelons – although there are not that too many watermelons.”

Around Halloween in October and through November, the corn will be cut for silage to feed the cows in the dairies and elsewhere.

Almond farmers now starting to shake trees

While row crop farmers are busy with tomatoes and other vegetables, almond farmers are just starting to shake the almonds from the trees.

“We’re going to start shaking tomorrow, but a lot of guys are going already,” said Richard Phillips whose family’s orchards are mostly located in north Manteca around the Woodbridge at Del Webb area.

The family also owns and operates the P & P Farms on North Union Road which provides shelling services for other local farmers.

The early almond varieties that are being harvested now are the Nonpareils and the Sonora. They will be followed by the Butte and Padre varieties, said Phillips whose wife Ernestine and their three children – Diane, Mike and Rick – all get involved in the work at this time of the year. Middle son Mike uses this time to take vacation time off from his job at Sandia Lab to help in the harvesting. Youngest sibling, Rick, “is the one that runs everything” at the farm. Diane, who runs a popular and long-running hot dog business in Stockton, leaves the reins of her business to a trusted employee and drives the almond pick-up machine during the harvest season.

The almond crop was also impacted by this year’s unseasonably cold spring, Phillips said.

“The Nonpareils were so late especially this year because of the cool weather in spring,” he said.