Friday, March 09, 2007
tour highlights stewardship
want to have ‘the healthiest specialty crop in the world’
Press Staff Writer
Friday, March 09, 2007
Mummified nut removal, cover crops and specialized shredding
equipment, all examples of farming practices that help the
environment, were highlights of the annual Environmental Stewardship
tour by the Almond Board of California.
|Scott Phippen with Phippen and
Travaille almond processing and Anita Brown, public affairs
director with Natural Resources Conservation Service, take a
close look at the processing operations during the Almond
Board of California’s environmental stewardship tour.
Members of federal, state and local regulatory agencies as well as
other growers were on hand to learn farming and processing practices
aimed at making almonds "the healthiest specialty crop in the
The tour was hosted by Dave Phippen, chairman of the Almond Board of
California, at the Travaille and Phippen plant.
Under a canopy of almond blooms, Nick Gatzman, who leads the pest
control and cultural operations for Phippen's almond orchards, spoke
emphatically about their goal of reducing pesticide use.
"The most cost-effective control is orchard sanitation," Gatzman
Removing over-wintering sites, disruption of life cycles, monitoring
and beneficial insects all play a part of their integrated pest
management plan, Gatzman said.
Control of navel orange worm, potentially the crop's biggest threat,
begins with clean trees and a clean floor. Gatzman said the $50 per
acre cost to run shakers in the winter, to remove mummified nuts and
discing them into the ground pays off.
"Sanitation allows for a little bit of error," said Gatzman,
explaining his monitoring program for navel orange worm. He said
2006 was a big year for the pest and just before last year's harvest
he was checking the early variety nonpareils when he found a new
hatch of worms.
"I told them we needed to harvest now. I was very concerned."
The vigilance paid off with only a 0.46 percent reject average, he
Gatzman said he times his spraying by monitoring traps in the almond
orchards. He says timing them exactly to hatching allows them to use
lower application rates because the newly hatched worms are easier
Dormant sprays and pre-emergent herbicide applications are no longer
standard practices for them, Gatzman said.
Again, monitoring traps tells him when pests, like San Jose scale,
are on the rise. He looks to see if beneficials are parasitizing the
pest. If they are working well, dormant sprays are not necessary.
Going without those sprays is a big deal because of water quality
and run-off rules, he said .
Ants can also be pests, he said, but only certain ones. Using ant
traps tells him if there are any hot spots and those can be
individually treated, he said.
Gatzman acknowledged that problems with pests can occur if neighbors
do not follow good management practices. But, he is a proponent of
integrated pest management.
"It's the responsible thing to do. Chemicals are becoming more
restricted and ... when the chemicals are gone, you will still be
One of the chemicals almond growers still need, Gatzman said, is the
fumigant methyl bromide. Without it, new orchards would not thrive
and never reach their production potential due to nematodes and
"Fumigation is a dirty word, but it's a real tool. We need to have
alternatives to methyl bromide or have resistant rootstocks,"
Cover crops in new orchards are also important tools, he said. Their
orchards are on sandier soil, so the peas, beans, oats and vetch
plants hold the moisture plus they add organic matter to the soil.
The organic matter becomes a food source for soil microbes, which
add to soil health.
"Taking care of the soil pays us back in higher yields, makes it
sustainable," Gatzman said.
Restrictions on dust and burning orchard waste have also prompted
innovations in machinery used in almonds, Phippen said.
Mike Flora of Flory Industries explained they have new machines that
use a circulating system to reduce the dust that is kicked up during
harvest operations. Machines that collect the shaken nuts and sweep
them into windrows for harvest typically put a lot of dust into the
air, but new technology keeps the air in circulation while kicking
More almond growers are now shredding their prunings, Flora said. A
brush shredder can take wood up to 4 inches in diameter and turn it
into small chips that decompose on the orchard floor. Costs run
between $280 to $290 per hour, he noted, but that was less costly
than pushing and burning.
Flora said growers in drier areas were having more difficulty with
the chipping, because the wood was not decomposing quickly and
presented problems during harvest.
Phippen said more than 80 percent of growers in the north and
central areas are now chipping. He noted that blown down trees and
diseased trees were still being burned.
Steve Shaffer with the California Department of Food and Agriculture
said it is important for the almond industry to develop protocols to
quantify their dust and emission reductions. Dale Shimp of the state
air board also noted there will be a workshop on April 16 where
growers can present their ideas on voluntary reductions, tracking
Cecilia Parsons is based in Ducor. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.