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Wind & rain drives almond growers nuts
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For almond farmer Richard Phillips of Manteca, the high wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour over the weekend was like a dog whose bark was worse than its bite.

“On our field, it didn’t hurt us too much. We lost four trees out of the whole works,” he said of how the weekend’s heavy rains combined with strong wind gusts have affected their almond orchards in northwest Manteca.

“But my cousin Tony Martin lost about 50 trees, and he’s got young trees. I don’t know why. It might be the open space. I just went over there today,” said Phillips who drove around to see how other fellow farmers were affected by the rainy first-day-of-spring weather.

“I took a ride today all around from here (on North Union Road) to West Ripon Road to check them out. Some fields had one or three trees down, but he (Martin) had the most,” said Phillips who is the other partner in P&P Farms on North Union Road just south of French Camp Road.

The good news for almond farmers like Phillips is that the windy and rainy weather came down at the end of the pollination season.

Their trees are “all done blooming, and we pulled most of the bees out the last couple of days because the blooms are all gone,” he said.

Furthermore, “we got them all sprayed for the fungus that comes on during this rainy period,” he added.

But while they can breathe a sigh of relief for now, past experiences make Phillips and other farmers aware that the crop is not completely out of danger.

Phillips remembers particularly March 1986.

“Back in 1986, we had about the same kind of blooming. The nuts started pretty good,” he recalled.

Then came the rains, which was widely considered “the miracle in March because of the drought, and all that winter we didn’t get that much rain. We were way behind at the start of March,” he said.

“But the miracle was bad news for us. Farmers that have pastures in the hills especially, like Tracy, like this kind of rain. They like (the hills) nice and green. But (that year) we were sitting here thinking, there’s no miracle in March.”

All that rain in March that year “cleaned all of us. The rains that came after the blooms pretty soon started getting fungus, even though they’ve been pollinated and looked good,” Phillips grimly recalled.

Bill Groen, who farms several hundred acres of almonds between Ripon and Manteca, was among those who were fortunate to see their trees spared by the weekend’s strong high winds. Groen, who is a second-generation farmer, said he “only lost one” almond tree over the weekend.

“I see some down over there eight or nine” trees down in the other neighboring orchards, he said.

“You just learn how to farm,” he said with his dry sense of humor as to why his trees were spared by the bad weather.

The almond varieties that he grows – nonpareil, Carmel and Fritz – “are all done blooming,” he also reported.

At the same time, he noted that the weather is “a little cold yet; we’ll see if we’ll come out of it.”

He has a very good reason to be wary. About three decades ago, he lost his almond crop to the cold. He has never forgotten that financially cruel year.

“It froze out here on April 23 years ago,” he recalled grimly. “I don’t forget them years; when you don’t get a paycheck for a year, you don’t forget that,” Groen said.