Plan for the worst, hope for the best. That’s a tough, solid, strategy as the 2021 season winds down and almond growers and PCAs look to 2022. The following are some considerations when following this strategy. Every operation is different, and growers must decide what works best for their business. Final decisions may not need to be made until early 2022, but planning ahead, given the stakes, is recommended.
The core issue is water, with both availability and quality of concern depending on local conditions.
The region and state start the water year (Oct-Sept) way behind on water. As of the middle of September, major reservoirs (Shasta and Oroville) serving the region and state are at 22-25% capacity, less than half of the normal storage for this time of year. The current forecast for the rest of 2021 is for equal chances for normal precipitation in the Sacramento Valley with a 70-80% chance of La Niña winter. 2020-21 was a La Niña winter. These are all predictions, not certainties, but the current precipitation outlook for the winter ‘21-‘22 is not great.
If the drought continues, more groundwater will be pumped to keep trees alive and, if enough water is available, productive. Using moderate to low quality water (see table) can risk decreasing yield from increasing rootzone salinity and/or toxic levels of the elements chloride, boron or sodium. For most of the Sacramento Valley, groundwater quality is good to very good. However, for parts of the Colusa and Sutter groundwater basins, water quality is not so good. Irrigation water quality levels are important to planning for next year, especially if similar quality groundwater was used in 2021.
Thresholds for 3 important irrigation water quality components based on risk to almond growth or yield reduction.
*For a more extensive information on water quality for almond irrigation see:
With a worst case scenario of low/no surface water deliveries and falling well water levels, here are some thoughts to consider in planning for 2022.
Rank orchards by potential value (net return to grower) in 2022 and future years. Possible considerations and rankings for use in farming decisions are suggested in the following table. These groupings are just examples based on UC research and the author’s experience. Orchard rankings and farming decisions should be based on local conditions and grower experience with input from PCA/CCA and nut handler.
Orchard conditions possibly influencing net grower returns (NGR) in a drought year.
Fall to prebloom practices can influence production potential for 2022 and could be adjusted on a per orchard basis. For example, higher cost items such as winter irrigation/salt management, potassium fertilization, preemergent herbicide and dormant sprays could be prioritized to the orchards with higher net return potential. [Orchard sanitation is also a big cost, but lack of sanitation in one orchard can mean that increased NOW, there, can spread harm and reduced net return in adjacent orchards.] Lower yielding orchards could receive less inputs this fall and/or spring, further limiting potential net income next year, depending on what is cut out or limited. Limiting inputs to orchards considered for removal could be further savings to growers.
Hopefully, adequate rain and snow will mean that these hard choices to remove or limit orchard yield will not need to be made. In the meantime, planning ahead will make springtime decision making simpler if the weather stays dry. — By Franz Niederholzer, UCCE Farm Advisor, Colusa and Sutter/Yuba Counties