The warmest winter since 1907 in south-central Texas has left its peach crop with inadequate chill hours this year, reported Lynn Brezosky in the San Antonio Express-News.
Without sufficient chill hours over the winter, the buds didn't get the re-boot they need to bloom in proper synchrony, which is important for blossoms to set fruit. The leaves have also been slow to emerge. "The trees look like it's still winter," said Jim Kamas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extenson horticulturalist.
“The lack of chill hours is a big deal,” said Larry Stein, extension horticulturalist with AgriLife Research & Extension Center.
The Texas trouble combined with a cold blast that destroyed half the crop in Georgia and North Carolina this spring mean peaches are likely to be in short supply this year.
The sweet spot, Brezosky wrote, may be California, the No. 1 peach producer in the nation. Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension pomology adviser, could think of no major problems affecting the southern part of the state's fresh market peach crop.
“I think in general it's probably going to be just fine,” he said.
UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist Toby O'Geen was the lead author of research published in California Agriculture journal that identified agricultural lands in California suitable for flooding in order to bank groundwater. He has created an app that allows landowners across the state to assess the suitability of their property for groundwater banking.
The Modesto project will determine what impact winter flooding will have on the health of almond trees and almond yield. UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor Roger Duncan was quoted in the Los Angeles Times about the potential advantages and disadvantages of flooding crops in the winter. He said water could spur more fungal diseases, but could also drown out worms and mites that damage crops.
The Almond Board of California is funding the project, anticipating that certain almond orchards will be good candidates for groundwater recharge.
"Almond orchards have good soil characteristics, and water delivery systems are already in place,” said Bob Curtis, director of agriculture affairs for the almond board. “Winter flooding should actually benefit the trees while replenishing groundwater to benefit us all."
Following are recent articles about the project:
Researchers test a possible drought solution by flooding an almond farm
Geoffrey Mohan, The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 20, 2016
(Reprinted in Daily News 24/7)
Scientists flood almond orchards to restore groundwater in California
Capital Public Radio, Jan. 20, 2016
Stormwater floods Modesto almond orchard in experiment to restore aquifer
San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 19, 2016
(Reprinted in the Contra Costa Times)
Researchers show off groundwater recharge near Modesto
Modesto Bee, Jan. 20, 2016
(Reprinted in the Fresno Bee and Bloomberg Business)
UC Davis scientists flood Modesto orchards in hopes of finding way to restore groundwater
CBS13, Sacramento and Modesto affiliates, Jan. 20, 2016
Researchers test a possible drought solution by flooding an almond farm
KTLA News 5, Jan. 20, 2016
(Rebroadcast on KRQE News 13)
Orchard tries experiment to restore aquifer
Morning Ag Clips, Jan. 20, 2016
Almond orchard key to water banking experiment
AgraNet, Jan. 20, 2016
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources experts are studying the effectiveness of flood irrigation to help recharge underground aquifers that have been depleted due to the drought, reported Ken Carlson in the Modesto Bee.
The pilot research project will involve flood irrigating almond orchards during the winter months, according to Roger Duncan, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County.
"If it works well, we can expand and potentially look at other locations, other soil types and other cropping systems," Duncan said.
The Modesto trial will take place on one orchard with 10 to 15 acres of fairly sandy soil with groundwater from another area.
According to the article, commercial almond orchards are not usually irrigated in winter because there's enough rainfall to keep the ground moist. Flood irrigation in almonds has of late been regarded as a wasteful practice from the era of cheap and plentiful water; many farmers have turned to micro sprinklers and drip irrigation for water conservation. But orchard flooding could bounce back as a strategic tool as local jurisdictions try to manage their groundwater levels.
The story was based on a survey released Sept. 4 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. CDFA sent questionnaires to 688 almond growers; in all 458 responded.
Among the growers who farm 600 or more acres of almonds, 87 percent said they used groundwater for crop irrigation. Groundwater has higher salinity than surface water.
"Almonds are not salt tolerant,” said Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County. Since many almond growers have substituted groundwater for surface water during this third year of drought, “we're seeing more salt damage in trees.”
Sbranti spoke to Merced County almond farmer Bob Weimer. He said farms dependent solely on groundwater are suffering the most. Nevertheless, the farmer said he drilled two new wells this year and plans to drill another one in the fall. One of his older wells went dry because the water table dropped.
"We can't continue this process," Weimer said. "It's not sustainable."
The CDFA survey also reported that 9 percent of almond growers have removed trees due to insufficient water availability. Ten percent of growers have decided to delay replanting of trees and 21 percent decided to delay orchard expansion, statistics that surprised Duncan because of the continuing high demand for new trees from nurseries.
"The nurseries are going full bore," Duncan said. "They can't grow enough trees."
Timm Herdt, a Ventura County Star columnist, wrote that farmers' close attention to the weather has given them keen awareness about climate change.
"Anybody who's paying attention knows the climate has already changed," said Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis.
In his story about last week's conference on climate change in Sacramento, Herdt wrote if there is any group that doesn't have to be sold on the idea that government must address the effects of climate change, it's farmers. However, he called climate change a tough political issue.
"Conservatives unwilling to acknowledge the overwhelming science on global warming will continue to fight efforts to slow climate change by reducing carbon emissions. Liberals will likely resist steps that might be needed to adapt to irreversible changes that have already taken place - steps such as increased reliance on genetic engineering to help agriculture adapt and a greater emphasis on water storage," Herdt wrote.
Other recent drought coverage includes:
Alfalfa is more resilient than many crops because it can go into a drought-induced dormancy during the summer, at least for one year, according to UC Cooperative Extension advisors Rachael Long and Steve Orloff. The tradeoff is that without water there will be little yield, but research has shown the stand will persist on most soil types and yield will recover the next year, once water is applied to the field again.
California drought will hit cost of rice hardest
Debbie Arrington, The Sacramento Bee
Price increases won't be huge, but one crop will see a noticeable price spike: California rice.
“It's the exception,” said Dan Sumner, noting the international demand for the state's short-grained “sushi rice.” “It's a unique product and a major export crop. You can't have a 20 or 25 percent reduction and not see an increase in price.”
MID, TID farmers can get water-wise tips
The Modesto Bee
UC Cooperative Extension takes part in a drought workshop for farmers in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts 6 to 8 p.m. May 29 at the Harvest Hall, Stanislaus County Ag Center, 2800 Cornucopia Way. UCCE advisor Roger Duncan will present water-saving practices.