At the annual meeting of the Almond Board of California, a panel of University of California (UC) Cooperative Extension farm advisers shared their thoughts on almond varieties. We thought you’d enjoy a sampling of their paraphrased remarks.
• Don’t forget to take into account the “Tiger Woods Effect.” No matter how promising a variety appears, or how precocious it is, it’s how a tree acts when it’s mature that counts. For a variety to make you money over the whole 20 years the average block is in the ground, is really a challenge.
• Location is critical. The only way to know if a variety will really perform well over time is to see if it performs well in a variety of circumstances. Pay attention to regional trials, because almost all varieties have both key advantages and deficiencies, but they will only emerge in certain areas.
• “Garbage in, garbage out.” Certain varieties will look good on paper, but when you get them out in the real world, you find out their faults. That’s why paying attention to trial data is so critical.
• When considering pollenizers, don’t just check for compatibility, but incompatibility. Some diseases are particularly bad in certain varieties. If there’s a disease that’s bad in your region, think twice about that variety.
• Talk to your handler. He or she might be able to tell you if there is a new variety that fits into a special market niche. The price differential for niches is widening. It’s also widening for nut quality. Does a given variety have a good shell seal? Shell seal, as well as harvest time, will affect reject levels.
• It takes a lot of time to evaluate varieties. At UC-Davis, they’ve been doing it for decades. Despite what anyone says, you won’t really know if a given variety is for you until you plant it in your orchard and have it for 20 years. The real test is whether you would then plant that variety again.
• Yield is so important and always of keen interest, but people are prone to exaggerate. Be skeptical of those professing high yields. Yields can be tricky because there are so many factors, such as a sand streak through an orchard block, that can impact yield. Use new technology to evaluate yields.
• One factor in yield, tree height, isn’t always considered. If a tree shades out its neighbor, yield will be affected. Also, you can equate light interception with yield. Is a variety more productive just because it’s growing faster initially, shading out neighboring trees?
• First, choose your main variety, which ordinarily boils down to Nonpareil or Butte. They don’t belong in the same orchard. When you do choose, be sure to weigh yield vs. price. A lot of growers go with a Butte/Padre combination because of higher yields, but Nonpareil fetches a premium price. Go with what nets the most dollars per acre.
• Pick pollenators carefully, because bloom time is critical. You don’t want early varieties with Nonpareil, but you don’t want late varieties, either. You want mid-late bloom, such as Monterey. If you’re a large grower, you want lots of different varieties to keep equipment in use. But if you’re a smaller grower, just go with a couple of varieties so you can concentrate on those and do a good job.
• Insect susceptibility is a factor that can be overlooked. If you’re planting an orchard that has high navel orangeworm (NOW) pressure, you’d want to stay away from NOW-susceptible varieties, like Butte or Sonora.
• Disease pressure is another factor that can be overlooked. For example, bloom time diseases can be a problem in the Sacramento Valley because it has higher rainfall than areas to the south. Conversely, alternaria can be bad in the southern San Joaquin Valley, so alternaria-susceptible varieties such as Winters can be a problem.
• Are you a risk taker? There are a lot of new varieties, such as Independence, that look good. However, there’s obviously no long-term data you can use to evaluate these newer varieties. If you’re averse to risk, you may want to stick with tried and true older varieties.