Going Organic In Almonds

Going Organic

 

 

 

 

 

 

After enjoying many seasons of consistently strong returns, almond growers have seen prices soften in recent years, leading many to consider farming some of their crop organically. But there are several considerations growers should take into account before making the move, says University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Adviser Roger Duncan.

Speaking on his home turf at a recent seminar at the Stanislaus Ag Center co-presented by the Organic Fertilizer Association of California and the American Society of Agronomy’s Certified Crop Adviser program, Duncan said those growers considering the move should have one overriding thought they must keep in mind.

“You can produce just as high-quality an almond in an organic system as you can in a conventional system,” he said. “It just takes a lot more time, more effort, and more money.”

More Time

Growers are going to need to spend a lot more time monitoring their crops. Actually, Duncan wishes that all growers — organic and conventional — would take more time for such tasks as scouting for pests. By getting ahead of potential problems, such as a pest infestation, growers can avoid much more serious problems later on.

It’s vital for growers who are making the move to organic farming to realize that monitoring will become even more important because they must avoid those serious problems because they won’t have the same tools to take care of them as they had in the past. “They simply won’t have as big of a hammer,” said Duncan.

In addition, scouting doesn’t stop when harvest begins. In fact, right now — during harvest season — is a great time to find out what’s going on in your orchards. You will need to really get to know the Big Three of almond pests, says Duncan (See photos). Part of the reason it’s so critical to know the Big Three — navel orangeworm (NOW), peach twig borer, and ants — so well, he says, is that each needs to be treated very differently.

More Effort

For example, by making the effort to examine those rejects and really learn what problems you have, you can use the proper strategy for NOW control. That strategy is pretty much the same for organic farming as it is conventional because much of it is cultural, he says. It means improving winter sanitation and earlier harvest. For treatment, the organic insecticide Entrust (spinosad, Dow AgroSciences) is pretty much on par with Lorsban (chlorpyrifos, Dow).
It will also take more effort to learn the ins and outs of various products, says Duncan. Organic growers have much greater responsibility to find out what can and can’t be applied to their orchards. For example, if you have San Jose scale, some growers might simply spray oil, thinking it’s not a pesticide per se. “But not every oil is organically acceptable,” he says. “Sure, most are, but it shows how important it is to check with an organic certifier to make sure it is acceptable. Don’t assume.”

More Money

It all comes down to the bottom line, so growers making the move to organic farming must realize that not only are the materials — everything from fertilizers to herbicides — generally more expensive, they require more applications because the formulations are generally not as intense. Besides that, all that extra monitoring, what with the cost of labor, isn’t cheap either.

Besides the increased cost, Duncan emphasizes that growers must realize that farming organically has a steep learning curve. For instance, one of the toughest problems for organic growers of all stripes — weeds — requires a new mind-set. (And maybe a bit of the old, see “Start Conventionally.”) There are currently no residual organic herbicides. As for fungicides, sulfur works well on almond rust, but other than that, organic fungicides generally aren’t nearly as powerful, as reliable, or as long lasting as conventional fungicides.

The good news for those who go organic? Besides the hopefully higher returns, growers will learn that almond trees can take a lot more than most think. Look at mites, for example. “In our area, I am convinced that many almond orchards could go without mite sprays at all, or maybe just hitting the edges or hot spots,” says Duncan. “I think almond trees are much more tolerant of mites than almond growers are.”

Start Conventionally

This may go against conventional thinking — pardon the pun — but University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Roger Duncan says growers who intend to farm their almonds organically should consider starting out farming them conventionally. This isn’t for those people who grow organically for philosophical reasons, who can’t abide using products that aren’t organically approved, but for those who opt to farm organically as purely a business decision.

Because if it’s a business decision, it’s really a no-brainer. Why? Because when it comes to farming almonds organically — or most crops for that matter — one of the most vexing problems is weed control. Or, as Duncan puts it: “Weeds put the pest in pest management for organic orchards.”

Organic growers don’t have the option of using such products as glyphosate or pre-emergent herbicides to take care of weeds, which are especially damaging to young orchards. As trees mature, their canopies will shade out a lot of weeds. There’s no financial drawback to starting out conventionally because you don’t really have much of a crop to sell those first three years anyway, which is the length of time needed to transition your orchard from conventional to organic.

In addition, unless you’re planting on virgin ground, you’re likely going to run into nasty replant problems. You’re going to want to fumigate that soil prior to planting, which will take care of nasty parasitic nematodes and worrisome weed seed.

“Your trees will literally be twice as big by the end of the first year if the ground is fumigated and all weeds are eliminated — there’s such a difference in how those trees grow without competition,” says Duncan, who makes his position on the matter crystal clear. “If I was going to farm almonds organically, I would start out conventionally.”

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Going Organic In Almonds

  1. “almond growers have seen prices soften in recent years” This may be because many people want to buy truly raw almonds and not the pasteurized ones.

Nuts Stories

CitrusEPA Launches Program To Reduce Pesticide Drift
October 22, 2014
The voluntary star-rating program aims to protect people, wildlife and the environment. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Conservation Impacts On Water Quality
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More
CitrusIt’s Time For Young Farming Leaders To Engage [Opinion]
October 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says there are capable and talented youths in the ag field ready to step up and take the reins. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches New Award To Recognize Produce Industry Innovators
October 21, 2014
Award recognizes innovation that enhances the role of produce in creating better lives. Read More
CitrusReport: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fill Vital Jobs
October 21, 2014
Current shortage of young farming professionals means ample employment opportunity for the next generation. Read More
NutsAlmond Growers To Promote Bee Health
October 16, 2014
Almond Board of California announces comprehensive Best Management Practices. Read More
NutsKeep In Mind Availability Of Soil Fumigants
October 15, 2014
Almond growers must be aware of restrictions pertaining to soil fumigants prior to replanting. Read More

The Latest

FruitsCalifornia Growers Sue State Over Drought
October 30, 2014
They claim the State Water Resources Control Board illegally denied water deliveries. Read More
FruitsHuge California Drought Meeting Planned
October 29, 2014
State, federal officials to meet as forecasts for the coming year look bleak. Read More
CitrusNOAA’s Winter Weather Outlook Runs Hot And Cold
October 27, 2014
Repeat of last year’s extreme cold and snow events east of the Rockies unlikely. Read More
CitrusEPA Launches Program To Reduce Pesticide Drift
October 22, 2014
The voluntary star-rating program aims to protect people, wildlife and the environment. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Co…
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More
CitrusIt’s Time For Young Farming Leaders To Engage [Op…
October 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says there are capable and talented youths in the ag field ready to step up and take the reins. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches New Award To Recognize Produ…
October 21, 2014
Award recognizes innovation that enhances the role of produce in creating better lives. Read More
CitrusReport: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fi…
October 21, 2014
Current shortage of young farming professionals means ample employment opportunity for the next generation. Read More
NutsAlmond Growers To Promote Bee Health
October 16, 2014
Almond Board of California announces comprehensive Best Management Practices. Read More
NutsKeep In Mind Availability Of Soil Fumigants
October 15, 2014
Almond growers must be aware of restrictions pertaining to soil fumigants prior to replanting. Read More
CitrusScientists Uproot Common “Superweed” Myths
October 15, 2014
A new fact sheet is available that explores the truth behind two fallacies.   Read More
CitrusFarm Bureau Urges Senate To Ditch Proposed Water Rule
October 8, 2014
Farm Bureau says the time is now to have the proposed water rule withdrawn. Read More
NutsGeorgia Universities Evaluating New Crop Monitoring Tec…
October 7, 2014
They receive USDA grant to work with company to measure effectiveness of Internet-based devices in growing pecans. Read More
Food SafetyCenter For Produce Safety To Fund 14 Projects
October 7, 2014
The objective of the new grant awards is to provide the industry with practical research that can be used at all levels of the supply chain. Read More
FruitsUSDA Expands Access To Credit To Help More Beginning A…
October 7, 2014
Changes increase eligibility and financing options. Read More
Citrus2014 Irrigation Show To Highlight Education
October 6, 2014
The conference, to be held in Phoenix, AZ, brings together all aspects of irrigation and water management: education, certification, networking, and innovative technologies. Read More
Farm ManagementSpecialty Crop Producers Score Nearly $118 Million In G…
October 2, 2014
Via 2014 Farm Bill, USDA seeks to bolster major driver in U.S. economy.   Read More
NutsNew Walnut Budding, Grafting, and Planting Video Releas…
October 1, 2014
Lake County nurseryman Alex Suchan, who has been grafting trees for two-thirds of a century, is the star. Read More