Climate gives combined bag for Butte County agriculture – Chico Enterprise-Report


A sea of almond blooms as seen from the Midway outside of Durham, California on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (Jake Hutchison/Enterprise-Record)

CHICO — Winter storms this year have created hope for many Californians suffering from years of drought but for agriculture, it’s more complicated.

More water means crops will be well provided for, but additional weather trends create new hazards for orchards, especially during this year’s almond bloom which requires some consistency in temperature and sunlight.

Colleen Cecil, executive director for the Butte County Farm Bureau, said almonds have likely been impacted the most by the weather events, especially since the trees are still in bloom.

“We’ve had some kind of moisture and cold temperatures this year during the entire almond bloom at this point,” Cecil said.

Cecil added that part of the concerns going forward in regard to the weather is the risk of freezing.

Agricultural land along Richvale Avenue near Richvale, California as seen Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (Jake Hutchison/Enterprise-Record)

“There is a lot of watching right now with temperatures,” Cecil said. “At this point, farmers are watching for low temperatures because any time it gets below 28 or 27 degrees it can be devastating for crops. We haven’t been there yet, so that’s good.”

After the almonds, the prunes begin to bloom and then the walnuts. By the end of summer, around August, almonds will be ready to pick and distribute.

“It’s not anything new,” Cecil said. “It’s definitely what farmers expect. We expect weather challenges we just hope that there are enough breaks between storms for the bees to work.”

Lee Heringer, the pest control adviser for M&T Farms, has been with the company for 15 years and has seen how freezes can affect crops.

“The worst year we’ve had was probably (2022),” Heringer said. “It was a frost event where it got really cold and actually froze the blooms out so most of the people in this area had about half a crop. So the idea of going through a second year in a row with disaster is quite alarming and quite disheartening.”

During blooms, the trees require the help of bees to pollinate the flowers in order to bear fruit. But bees require different elements to work. Ideally, temperatures should be above 55 degrees with little to no wind and no rainfall.

“We certainly welcome the rain in any form, but we’ve gotten to the point now where these trees are blooming and trying to get pollinated,” Heringer said. “The bees are trying to go to work but can’t because they won’t fly if it’s too cold, too windy or if it’s raining and we’re getting all three. Some days it’s all three, some days it’s one or the other. We’re just not getting enough pollination weather.”

“I mean these family farms, any farms really, are relying on the crop to dig them out of the hole from last year and the weather we’ve had hasn’t made the prospects bright,” Heringer continued.

To make matters even more complicated, reports have come in that the next round of storms could bring as much as four inches of rain, Heringer said.

“That’s not great for the crops,” Heringer said. “The other thing too is we’ve either been having to irrigate for frost protection or have gotten rain when we didn’t have to frost protect so these trees, a lot of them, have just been sitting in water. These trees don’t like to be sitting in water. It’s not an ideal position for them.”

North Chico out to Orland had reports of hail in the area Monday, which creates other complications for fruit and nut trees. Hail can do damage to blooms along with any fruit that has begun to sprout.

There is still time before any determination can be made regarding how the almond crops do this year. Heringer said it’s likely that the outlook will be known by April, though lack of pollination could lead to nutlets falling from the tree early if the trees are unable to support their growth.

While the fate of the crop remains up in the air, Heringer, Cecil and District 3 Supervisor Tod Kimmelshue expressed optimism in terms of water allocation for local farmers.

“I think the main thing is that we have water,” Kimmelshue said. “We have precipitation, we have a snowpack which is so very important to the agriculture industry, so that is very, very encouraging and what that means for farmers in the southern part of Butte County who rice farm, they will pretty much get all the water allotment they can use.”

Kimmelshue said some aquifer measurements have shown increases up to 20 feet in water level since last October.

“We’re just very pleased with the access to water the farmers will have,” Kimmelshue said. “Because this community revolves around how well the ag community does economically. When agriculture does well, the community as a whole does well.”


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