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Impact recent storms could have on almond blossoms amid pollination

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Posted at 9:02 AM, Feb 28, 2023

SHAFTER, Calif. (KERO) — Rain and snow are packing in a flood of potential water resources for farmers amid recent storms. While that all seems positive, these frosty storms are bringing a bitter burden to almond farms in the midst of pollination.

Jenny Holtermann is a 4th-generation Kern County Almond farmer. While in her family orchard looking at a tree with almond buds, she remarks, "These ones in theory, hopefully might be pollinated, might not be. But these ones haven’t even opened year.

A perfect storm takes on new meaning for almond growers. While these last several storm systems brought much needed rainfall, January’s showers and February’s frost means almond growers could be looking at a less than desirable season.

“Across the state there has been that impact," Holtermann said. "Up north, they tend to get more wind more rain than we do down south, and their yields have been more impacted. Down here we don’t traditionally get that much that it impacts us that much, [but] this year it could be a change and that.”

It’s the burden placed on almond farmers at the start of each season. In total, almond blossoms have around four-week pollination time, when blossoms begin to bud. Once the blossom buds flower, that window shortens to around two-weeks before petals fall and the blossom can no longer be pollinated.

The outcome of their crop relying heavily on active bees buzzing to get the job done.

Holtermann recalls their orchard beginning to blossom right around Valentines day, so they're coming to the end of the pollination period. However, that last few days, temperatures have dropped and the bees have been cooped up in their boxes.

“The biggest issue is the temperature and the bees are not flying," Holtermann said. "It’s been about 50° for the last week or more because of the storm, and beens don’t fly when it’s less than 55°."

According to Holtermann, the bees are typically most active when temperatures are between 60 to 70°. This means some of the blossoms were likely pollinated earlier in the month before the temperatures dropped, but there are still buds that haven't blossomed. Those that have could face problems down the line due to the rain causing fungal diseases and rot within flower.

This isn’t the first time winter storms have put a damper on almond crops. In 2019, a winter storm system led to an unprecedented amount of trees being uprooted. Last year, San Joaquin County filed for emergency assistance from the state amid storm damage to crops.

“Farming we really are at the hands of mother nature," Holtermann said. "Can’t really do much, mother nature does what she wants and that we’re here to just you know roll with the punches.”

Holtermann’s family has been growing almonds in Kern County for over 60 years and she says most of the year climate helps almonds thrive. That’s what makes this small crossover of pollination during the storms that much more daunting.

It'll be a few months before Holtermann will be able to see the impacts of these recent storms on their yield, but they should have a good idea before their harvest in August.