Skip to main content

Clean orchard floor for harvest starts with work in spring

Harvest may be months away, but there things growers can do now to ensure a clean orchard floor.


Mallvinder Kahal_Harvest Dust_smaller.png
“When you have a clean orchard floor, you’re working less at harvest. And when you’re working less at harvest, it turns out you’re saving money in addition to reducing dust. That’s a win for you and a win for your neighbor." Hear from Mallvinder Kahal and other growers in ABC's short video series on reducing dust during harvest, found on the California Almonds YouTube page.

(April 3, 2020) – Two years ago, the almond industry set an ambitious goal to reduce dust during harvest by 50% by 2025. Achieving this goal will require new technologies and practices to be implemented in almond orchards across the Central Valley.

While industry leaders continue to research and test off-ground harvesting, a future where that harvesting technique is widespread still is years away. As such, as long as shaking and sweeping remains, preparing an orchard floor that is smooth and free of debris will be one of the primary ways growers and custom harvesters can keep dust levels down.

There is another advantage to creating a clean orchard floor: Fewer sticks, rocks and other foreign material are swept into windrows and collected during pickup, meaning less unwanted material is passed along to huller/shellers and, potentially, handlers.

Delivering more nuts – and less foreign material – also directly impacts growers’ bottom line.

“The cleaner your product is when you send it to the huller, the cleaner it is when it goes to the processor – and that means a better return on your investment,” said Donny Hicks, grower and grower rep for Hughson Nut, Inc.

Clean orchard floor = more productive harvest

Here are three things growers can do in the spring to create a clean orchard floor in preparation for harvest:

  • Plan ahead and remove unwanted vegetation
  • Remove rocks, sticks and other debris
  • Fill in ruts and holes

A short video produced by the Almond Board of California (ABC) covers these important tips and explains how a well-managed orchard ensures that growers pick up as many nuts as possible on the initial passes rather than losing nuts to ruts and holes.

“A clean orchard floor starts at the end of last harvest,” said grower Malvinder Kahal of Madera. “Right away, you want to float away the crowns that settle from picking up and sweeping, and you want to execute the proper cultural practices that reduce unwanted vegetation.”

“When you have a clean orchard floor, you’re working less at harvest,” Kahal said. “And when you’re working less at harvest, it turns out you’re saving money in addition to reducing dust. That’s a win for you and a win for your neighbor.”

What about cover crops? 

For growers who planted cover crops last fall between the orchard rows in an effort to provide habitat and nutrition for honey bees during bloom and/or to improve their soil conditions, spring is the time to remove that extra vegetation.

Most growers first mow cover crops after bloom is over, then spray the remaining material with a herbicide to guarantee there will be little-to-no residue in growers’ orchards well before the time harvest occurs.

“There is this perceived idea that you’re going to have plants and residues on the orchard floor at harvest, but that's easily avoidable if you terminate the cover crops promptly post-bloom, keeping cover crops as a winter practice." said Amelie Gaudin, a faculty member of the UC Davis Department of Plant Science who has led research on cover crops for the past three years. 

Food safety benefits

Beyond the implications for harvest and dust, a clean orchard floor also is necessary to maintain food safety, as detailed in the Almond Board’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), section five.

Among the key points in ABC’s GAPs are:

  • While food safety measures implemented by handlers, as well as the removal of debris by huller/shellers, do much to remove pathogens and other harmful bacteria from almonds, maintaining a clean orchard floor ensures the lowest risks possible for harvested product before it is brought to the huller/sheller.
  • Growers should keep all food and beverage containers or other metallic and glass materials out of the orchard as they represent potential sources of foreign-material contamination.
  • Growers should prevent the development of uneven areas where windrows will be that could result in pooling during rainfall. Pooling water increases the risk of food-borne illness due to pathogen infiltration of the hulls and shells, especially when temperatures are warm during harvest.

“Growers play a critical role both during the growing season and prior to harvest in helping to ensure the safety of the crop,” said Tim Birmingham, director of Quality Assurance and Industry Services for the Almond Board. “By implementing GAPs on their operations, growers can help to reduce the potential for pathogens, and paying particular attention to the orchard floor and reducing harborage sites or attractants for rodents, vermin or other transient animals goes a long way in helping to avoid microbial contamination.”

For more on pre-harvest management practices, visit