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(originally published August 2017)

Nut crop commodity growth has been explosive in California’s San Joaquin Valley in recent years, requiring new and expanding operations to develop on increasingly marginal soils. Much of the available acreage has been in long-term grape or cotton production, crops that are generally tolerant of these soil conditions. Perennial tree crops by contrast can have the greatest yield and quality potential when established on deep uniform productive soils. The probable tradeoffs of orchard establishment in areas characterized by poor uniformity, fertility, drainage, high salinity, and structural problems requires careful consideration. A thorough evaluation before planting can help identify the appropriate pre-plant modifications and help guide long term management actions that may improve substandard growing conditions and increase long-term profitable production and return on investment. Proper site evaluation can be a daunting task, especially for growers for which tree crops are a new venture. There are several online tools and phone applications that can facilitate the process of site evaluation and planning for a new orchard.

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(originally published May 2017)

Precise irrigation management is a matter of achieving the right balance of water in the soil to the amount of water needed to efficiently create the best crop.  It’s much easier to define than to achieve, however.  Too much water is almost as bad as not enough.  So how much is the ideal amount of water?

It’s a burning question, one that 2nd-generation farmer Ryan Kaplan from Chico, Ca., wanted to answer during the recent drought.  Ryan and his father, Ken Kaplan, farm 600 acres of walnuts, pistachios and prunes.  While finding the answer to his question, Ryan developed a software program that greatly simplifies using a pressure bomb system to monitor moisture in his trees.  He tested it out and fine-tuned it on his own farm then found ways to use it to improve their crop.  His finished software—“Pressure Bomb Express”—makes it possible for any commercial grower to incorporate pressure bomb testing into their irrigation management system.

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(originally published April 2017)

Recycling Ag pesticide containers is easy, cost effective and good for the environment, according to Ron Perkins, executive director of Ag Container Recycling Council (ACRC).

 ACRC was founded in 1992, and they are celebrating their Twenty-fifth anniversary this year.  ACRC has 40 members from the industry that includes all of the larger chemical manufacturers.

Members pay annual dues based on the pounds of plastic pesticide containers they produce, and Perkins estimates about 90 percent of the industry participates in ACRC program. 

Green Plastic Planet

Recycling just makes sense for growers from a financial standpoint, according to Bill Graves, CEO of Green Planet Plastics and an environmental professor at Butte College in Chico, California.  Graves is also a small almond grower in Butte County, and he began accumulating empty pesticide containers.

     Even on a small farm the pesticide containers begin to add up, Graves said.  “Pretty soon you’ve got 20, then you’ve got 30 or 40, and then you go what the heck should you do with these things?”

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(originally published March 2017)

This month’s Ag Tech topic came about because a reader wrote us with a request for information.  He wanted to know about the use of dendrometrics in water conservation. We’re very glad he asked, as it sent us down a road that has been very interesting. What’s more important is, we found a new water and nutrient monitoring method that could save growers money.

With recently developed electronic measuring techniques, a high-tech equivalent of the old-fashioned dendrometer is becoming an important tool for hi-tech tree and vine growers. It’s helping them deliver water and nutrients only when the plant needs them.  This can provide a potential savings in water and fertilizers. It is a demand-based water and nutrient management system based upon careful measuring of plant fluids.

Dendrometers have been used to evaluate the health of orchards and forests for years. They are metal bands that encircle the tree’s trunk and measure changes in the circumference. These changes happen not only when the tree grows; water flowing from the roots to the branches will also cause the trunk to swell. This measurement can help an astute grower determine peak water demand.  It will tell him whether that demand is being met, before the tree suffers from dehydration.