"Flash" bloom to hard freeze to drought: a hard year coming
Flash bloom: Warm weather has all almond varieties blooming at the same time
Steve Schoonover, http://www.chicoer.com/article/NA/20180209/NEWS/180209724
The warm weather we’ve been enjoying has produced what’s called a “flash bloom” in almonds, with all the varieties blooming at once.
Most people probably don’t realize that’s not usually the case. But almond orchards aren’t a monoculture with a single variety of trees. Almonds need a different type of tree for cross pollination in order to produce nuts.
The most sought-after almond variety is the Nonpareil, and it’s the one most widely planted in this area.
For pollination, most growers will break up a Nonpareil orchard with periodic rows of a couple of different pollinator varieties: one that blooms a little earlier than the Nonpareils and one that blooms a little later.
The idea is to get what Butte County UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Luke Milliron called “bloom overlap.”
That’s why if you look closely at an almond orchard in bloom, you might see a row of two of trees here and there that’s not blooming like the rest of the orchard. It either hasn’t started or it’s past its prime.
Not this year. This year all the varieties bloomed at once.
“Usually the bloom stretches out over two weeks,” Milliron said. “This year could be as short as a week.”
That’s probably a good thing. The only question is whether the bees can get to all the blooms.
Glenn County Farm Advisor Dani Lightle said the weather has been good for bee flight, with warm temperatures and little wind.
“But with the crush of flowers all at the same time, can they get to them all?” she asked.
The answer should be known in the next couple of weeks.
Both Milliron and Lightle were cautiously optimistic about the crop due to the favorable pollination weather.
The blooms and young nuts will still be vulnerable to frost damage for a few weeks though, according to Butte County Ag Commissioner Louie Mendoza.
He said there are about 41,000 acres in Butte County planted in almonds. It was the No. 2 crop in the county according to the 2016 crop report, producing almost $188 million worth of nuts.
It was No. 1 in Glenn County, with a harvest value at $224 million, with more than 48,000 acres planted.
Freezing temperatures had farmers on edge as many try to protect crops
An early-morning freeze put area farmers on full alert Tuesday, but the damage – if any – may not show up for days or even weeks.
Citrus growers, whose crops are among the most susceptible to subfreezing temperatures, saw the thermostat drop to the low 20s for up to five hours in the coldest areas of the central San Joaquin Valley. Many deployed frost-protection measures including wind machines and irrigation water to try to prevent any damage.
Citrus industry officials say the frost protections, combined with mature fruit on the trees, may have saved this year’s citrus crop. About half of the navel and mandarin crop remains on the tree.
“Given the timing of this freeze event and the good size and sugar content of the crop at this point in the season, growers do not anticipate any damage,” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, a group based in Exeter that lobbies for growers.
But it isn’t just this year’s crop that farmers are worried about, since a hard freeze could destroy fruit buds that have begun emerging.
Nelsen said citrus trees have started blooming two to four weeks earlier than usual.
“Drastic swings in temperature such as what we are experiencing now may cause the early, fragile blooms to drop, which could translate to a smaller crop for the 2018-19 season,” Nelsen said. “The coming days will reveal if damage was incurred. Growers are optimistic that if there is damage the trees will have ample time to bounce back and push out another set of blooms this spring.”
Cold impact on almonds
Freezing temperatures have also put almond growers on the defense. Fresno County grower Don Cameron began watering his almonds several days ago to help raise the temperature in his orchards. The more humidity that’s created, the more slowly the temperature will drop.
Cameron, who farms around the Five Points area, said the temperature dropped to the upper 20s early Tuesday morning. Subfreezing temperatures could damage the buds on blooming nut trees.
If there is damage, growers will see an increase in buds dropping off their trees within a few weeks.
Also of concern are the cool daytime temperatures this time of the year. This is prime pollination time for the state’s almond industry. Millions of bees are needed to pollinate the hundreds of thousands of almond acres. But bees don’t like cool temperatures. They work best when the temperature is 55 degrees and above.
“The period of time to pollinate is really limited,” Cameron said. “And from what I have seen, we have a fairly cool period of weather that we still have to get through.”
Cold snap brings freeze, frost warnings to California
California is in the grip of a cold air mass that has sent temperatures plunging. Hard freeze warnings are in effect early Tuesday up and down the Central Valley and on the Central Coast, with a mix of freeze and frost warnings elsewhere.
John Antczak And Amanda Lee Myers,
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Temperatures plunged throughout California early Tuesday, triggering freeze warnings in agricultural areas and finally bringing a wintry chill to a season more notable for unusual warmth and lack of storms.
The very cold air mass from western Canada brought the most frigid temperatures so far this winter and the coldest in years for some locations, the San Francisco/Monterey National Weather Service office said.
The mercury dipped into the 20s and 30s in many areas and into single digits in some mountain locations before dawn. San Francisco International Airport was 36 (2.2 Celsius), breaking the record of 37 (2.7 Celsius) set on the date in 2011. Downtown Los Angeles was in the low 40s.
Hard freeze warnings were posted overnight up and down the agriculturally rich Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, meaning temperatures would be 28 degrees (-2.2 Celsius) or lower for two or more consecutive hours, potentially threatening crops. The warnings expired at midmorning but were set to go back into effect Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
Joe Del Bosque, owner of Del Bosque Farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, said he's concerned that there's been damage to his cherry trees and his asparagus, but even more so to his almond crop.
"They're almost in full bloom so the whole crop is exposed and we're pretty concerned," Del Bosque said.
He said temperatures dipped as low as 29 degrees (-1.6 Celsius) off and on for two hours at his 2,000-acre farm overnight. Damage won't be apparent to any of his crop for at least a day or two, he said.
Like most farmers, he's irrigating his orchards because water around the crops helps moderate temperatures.
"That's about all we can do, and just pray," he said.
For skiers and snowboarders, the cold brought some improvement in the season.
Bear Mountain Resort in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles said it received 4 inches (10 centimeters) of natural snow from the system but artificial snowmaking benefited from one of the coldest nights of the year. Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada reported about the same snowfall and was just 16 degrees (-8.8 Celsius) at noon.
The cold followed a blustery weekend storm system that churned whitecaps in coastal waters and whipped up sandstorms along some beaches but delivered little precipitation.
"This last storm system essentially paved the way for a series of weaker storm systems to follow in its footsteps, essentially opening the storm door for the winter once again," the National Weather Service said.
Several more storms were in the mid- to long-range forecasts, but didn't bear much promise of rain and snow.
"None of these initial storm systems look particularly wet, so expect February to end with a significant precipitation deficit for most areas," the weather service said.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys will be under a Hard Freeze Warning through 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Temperatures overnight will drop around 22-29 degrees.
It's a good time to remember: pets, plants, and pipes.
Unseasonably cold weather sticks around through the next 10 days, but widespread freezing overnight temperatures will be gone by Thursday.
Sprinklers keep almond orchard temperatures up as they coat the trees with icicles
Steve Schoonover, Chico Enterprise-Record
Chico >> Almond orchards throughout the area were wearing icicles early Tuesday morning, as growers turned on their sprinklers to temper the cold weather’s impact on the blooms and young nuts.
Sprinklers are the main weapon against damaging frost in almonds, according to UC Cooperative Extension Farm Adviser Luke Milliron.
Although it varies with the kind of irrigation system in place, in-ground oscillating sprinklers can raise air temperatures in an orchard 3 to 4 degrees as the ice forms. Once the ice coats the flowers and nutlets, it prevents their temperature from dropping below 32 degrees, which is an unsafe level.
Damage varies with the stage of the bloom. The pink buds are a bit hardier as they have a lot of sugar, which serves like an antifreeze, Milliron said. The young nuts are more susceptible to damage.
Jared Enos, a ranch manager for Carriere Farms in Glenn County, said the buds are safe to about 27 degrees and the blooms to about 28 degrees. But when the young nuts are formed, then can be damaged by temperatures of 31 to 32 degrees
It was cold enough Tuesday morning to do some damage. The National Weather Service reported lows on the valley floor as low as 24 degrees, with 28 about as high as it got.
Interestingly the weather service website shows the “banana belt” in the foothills, with lows in Cohasset, Paradise and east Oroville all above freezing.
Enos said the fight against the freeze begins well before the temperatures dip. The ground is soaked, as wet soil holds more heat from the sun.
Then several hours before temperatures hit freezing, the pumps are turned on. Enos said Carriere turns them on at 37 degrees. That was about midnight to 1 a.m. Tuesday.
Some ranches have temperature alarms, but Enos and one of his workers spent Sunday night and Monday night sleeping in one-hour increments and checking to see if it was cold enough to start the sprinklers.
The sprinklers run until the sun melts the ice off the trees.
Some larger operations can’t pump enough water to protect their whole orchards, and hire helicopters to push warmer air from above — that banana belt elevation — down into the trees. Enos said he’d heard one operation had hired 18 helicopters for Tuesday morning.
“It’s a critical point,” Enos said. “Once it drops it only takes about 30 minutes and you get pretty significant damage. You could lose half the crop.”
Milliron said it will be several months before the extent of the damage to the almond crop from the frost is known.
The losses are often very spotty, with more damage in low spots where the cold air pools and doesn’t drain.
Facing specter of drought, California farmers are told to expect little water
It's starting to look like a drought year for California farmers who depend on water from the federal government.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Tuesday that most farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta who get water from the federal Central Valley Project will receive just 20 percent of their requested allocation this year.
Although the numbers could change and the allocations could increase this spring, the initial figures reflect the abysmal precipitation California has received so far this winter. "We have extremely low snowpack and limited anticipated runoff," said David Murillo, the bureau's regional director.
The agency said it can't yet provide an initial allocation figure for many Sacramento Valley water agencies because of the lack of rain and the legal requirement that plenty of water be kept in Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California, to protect endangered species of Chinook salmon.
Those left in the dark for the time being includes some urban agencies in the Sacramento area such as Placer County Water Agency and the San Juan Water District, although officials stressed that those agencies aren't in danger of running short of water.
Still, the announcement was sobering. Despite last winter's record rainfall, Californians must "prepare for the potential of return to drought conditions," said Federico Barajas, deputy regional manager of the bureau.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack is just 20 percent of normal and most of the state has received rainfall levels that are well below average.
So far, however, conditions aren't as bad as during the worst of California's five-year drought. In some years, farmers south of the Delta received no water from the Central Valley Project, prompting many of them to dramatically increase the amount of water they pumped out of the ground.
Last winter's record Northern California rainfall filled most of the state's reservoirs and will ensure that most of the irrigation districts and municipal agencies that belong to the CVP will get at least some water from the feds.
At the San Juan Water District in suburban Sacramento, for instance, the reservoir conditions provide a cushion against the uncertainty of not receiving an initial allocation.
"The good news is that Folsom Lake has a lot of water in it," said San Juan general manager Paul Helliker, whose agency pulls water from the reservoir and has supplies outside of the Central Valley Project. "That does give us some comfort."
The State Water Project has set an initial allocation of 20 percent for all of its farm and municipal customers. The CVP doesn't distribute its water equally, however, because some of its customers have special historic water rights that provide for more generous deliveries. While many of the farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are getting an initial allocation of only 20 percent, others have been told to expect 30 percent or more. The "settlement contractors," a select group of Sacramento Valley rice farmers, have been given an initial allocation of 100 percent.
The short-term weather forecast does offer some relief. The National Weather Service said the Sierra is expected to get as much as 8 inches of new snow starting late Wednesday. Because it's so cold, snow levels could drop to as low as 1,000 feet. However, forecasters said the incoming storm isn't expected to bring heavy precipitation.