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A whole lot of shaking going on
Almond field worker Ramon Moreno scoops up scattered almonds. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

There’s still a lot of shaking going on in the almond orchards.

And with gray skies threatening rain – it already started sprinkling Monday night – there’s also a lot of scurrying taking place.

In contrast to the weekend’s sizzling summer-like sunny weather, the sky on Monday was gray. With dust flying everywhere, the almond trees, pick-up machines and loading trucks looked like ghostly figures in the orchards on Cottage Avenue just south of Lathrop Road.

It‘s the first week of October. The 2011 almond harvest is winding down, with about four to five more weeks to go.

But there were still miles of almond windrows on the ground that needed to be picked up before the dark clouds descend as rain and drench the crops that have already been knocked down from the trees.

The anxiety was clearly etched on the face of Ramon Moreno who was overseeing the harvest at the North Cottage Avenue almond orchard early Monday afternoon. And the urgency could be heard loud and clear in the seemingly never-ending drone of not just one but two pick-up machines that kicked up thick clouds of dust over the trees and parts of the road as they scooped up the nuts gathered in neat rows on the ground. As soon as the machines filled up, the nuts were dumped in a conveyor belt that deposited them into the Van Ryn truck with double loaders which then took them to the Van Ryn shelling plants at Van Ryn Avenue, formerly Spreckels Road south of Moffat Avenue.

That was a scene repeated all throughout the almond orchards in Manteca, Ripon and outlying areas on Monday.

“Everybody’s hurrying to get everything that’s on the ground,” said almond grower David Phippen of Travaille & Phippen in Manteca.

The growers’ worry were not so much over the ripe almonds that are still on the trees but those that are already on the ground that would get wet in the rain.

“What’s important are the almonds on the ground, so everybody’s scrambling to get everything that’s on the ground,” Phippen said.

Nobody wanted to see a repeat of what happened during the previous year’s harvest when the weather played cat and mouse with the growers during harvest time, he said.

“Last year, we got a lot of trouble. It was very difficult,” he said of the way the previous year’s almond crops were harvested with Mother Nature complicating the task.

Almonds that get wet on the ground would need to get dried up before they can be processed at the shelling facility. The drying-up process could be an expensive proposition for the growers, not to mention the delay that would cause in the harvesting.

“We’re usually done (harvesting) by the end of October,” Phippen said.

Almond growers have every reason to be concerned about their crop. Almond is a multimillion-dollar crop in San Joaquin County alone. According to the San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner’s 2010 report, almond’s gross value was $156,822,000.