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Almond growers wont known until June
A pair of bike riders take a scenic tour of the rural south Manteca countryside where almond orchards are at the peak of their blooming season. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
South County almond grower Dave Phippen thinks there’s a much bigger concern than the frost that weather forecasters had predicted would affect the crop over the weekend.


With the blossoms already exposed for roughly a week, Phippen – who co-owns and operates Travaille and Phippen Inc. on Graves Road – expects the short pollinating window to close by the end of the week with rain expected for the next two days.

That means, with all of the rain, wind and cold that the South County has received in that time frame, the bees that growers rely on to pollinate their crop have had little time to do the work that plays such a pivotal role in early development.

“We’ve probably had about one-third of the bee flight that we had last year, and last year’s wasn’t adequate,” said Phippen. “We’re trying to remain optimistic, but right there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to.”

With the Almond Blossom Festival approaching several weeks ago, and hints that the flowering of the trees was coming soon, the weather forecast at the time looked promising for February in Northern California – even though Phippen noted that he always remains wary of how quickly the weather can change in the spring season.

And then things changed drastically.

The National Weather Service had issued a hard freeze warning for early Saturday and Sunday morning – warning growers of tree fruits like almonds and apricots that temperatures would be below freezing for more than three hours – but Phippen said that after closer inspection damage didn’t appear to be much of an issue.

“I think that we’re in the group that escaped most of the damage,” Phippen said. “There was a little bit of damage, but we can’t tell whether that was from frost damage or dead tissue from something else. What’s a much bigger concern right now is the cold weather and loss that came from the bees being prevented from flying, how limited the bee flight hours have been and whether they had a chance to do enough pollinating.”

Now it’s a waiting game for growers who will next get reports that come out in early May and at the end of June – with the latter being more accurate about the status of the overall health of the crop and the estimated yield.

Whether enough was done in the two weeks of pollination, Phippen says, won’t likely be known at length until much later in the season.

“I think that we’re a very long ways from knowing anything,” he said. “The real knowledge comes when they’re all off the tree and they’re weighed. Until then it’s pretty much a guessing game, and we can hope for the best but things don’t appear to be going that way right now.”