How long is an almond orchard productive?

Posted November 23rd, 2016

This post was written by Kern County almond farmer Jenny Holtermann and originally appeared on her blog, You Say All-mend, I Say Am-end on Sept. 15, 2016. Jenny discusses the life cycle of almond trees, comparing the need to pull out a 28-year-old orchard nearing the end of its productive life while at the same time experiencing the first harvest of a three-year-old orchard.

A question I get asked a lot, especially during harvest is "How long do trees live?" This question is usually asked because people want to know how long an almond orchard is productive before we have to remove it. This harvest I have watched two different cycles of life on our farm. Our oldest orchard is seeing its last harvest this year, at 28-years-old. The production and profitability of an orchard definitely declines with age.  It's reached a point that it just isn't producing enough crop to justify keeping it around for another year. At the same time, we have another orchard that is being harvested for the first time at just under three-years-old. I guess it is true - with every chapter that closes another one begins.

Our 28-year-old orchard is the last orchard on our farm that is flood irrigated. About seven years ago, my family started transitioning our farm over to drip irrigation to help conserve water and better manage our decreasing water deliveries. At the time we started this conversion it just didn't make sense to invest into the irrigation system of an old orchard when we were going to rip it our shortly. Now, it is time for our 28-year-old orchard to update and rebuild, or pass the torch. We will plant a new almond orchard next year and update the irrigation system to drip.

At 28-years-old, this orchard also has gaps and stretches in the field with no trees. In a standard orchard after a rain or windstorm we take out the fallen trees and in the spring we replant where any trees are missing. Well, with age, it got to a point that it didn't make sense to replant where the missing trees were if we were going to replant the whole orchard soon. 
                                                                                                           
The main factor in an almond trees lifespan is, of course, productivity. Depending on soil type, water stress, environment, or disease pressure, an almond orchard generally lives for 25-30 years before it is removed. An almond tree hits a plateau for yield around 15 years and after that it starts to slowly decline. So the short answer is an individual tree may be productive for a long time, however, for a farm the economics of the whole orchard have to be taken into account.

This was the case a few years ago as well. Now our youngest orchard is having its first harvest this year. In March of 2014 our farm planted this young orchard after we ripped out an older almond orchard. Now, in its third growing year we are harvesting. The years 2014 and 2015 were all about growing, training and pruning the tree itself. We focused on maintaining a healthy and happy tree. Now in its third year of life, it made its first harvest.

It is a great life cycle lesson on our farm right now. We love to watch the young orchards be developed and become productive. At the same time, it is sad to see another orchard reach the end of its life. After 28 years, it has seen a lot of growth. But I guess the same can be said about our family. That orchard has seen our family grow over the last 28 years. If those trees could talk they could share the memories of our family and how we have grown, expanded and welcomed new life.

Until Next Time,

Almond Girl Jenny