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Focusing on Efficiency During Tough Times

Adopting efficient practices become particularly important in times of high economic volatility


It’s no question that the cost of growing almonds has increased. Growers are feeling the pinch of rising input costs for expenses like fertilizer, fuel, water and crop protection. It’s more than a feeling — the numbers back it up.  

“According to, which tracks U.S. fertilizer prices, nitrogen prices are up 80%, phosphorus prices are up 65% and potash prices are up 100% compared to last year,” reported Robert Mikkelsen, Director of Agronomic Services at Yara International. Mikkelsen explained that the increasing cost of fertilizer is due to a combination of factors, including high energy prices, the disruption of shipments from Russia and Ukraine, and rising commodity crop prices that incentivize farmers to apply more fertilizer to increase yield. “All of these factors have caused a spike in fertilizer prices that no one anticipated,” said Mikkelsen. 

At times when the cost of inputs are global in scale and far beyond control, how can almond growers minimize costs in the orchard? The answer – focus efforts on what they can control – management practices that maximize efficiency. Based on research funded by the Almond Board of California, here are some management practices growers may consider to help manage input costs.    

  • When irrigating with a limited water supply, reduce irrigation all season long. Less water will mean more stress, but not all stress is created equal. Research conducted by the University of California found trees that experienced an even deficit throughout the season always had higher yields than other irrigation reduction strategies. UCCE Pomology Advisor Roger Duncan detailed these findings for growers earlier this year. 

  • Use multiple tools to maximize efficiency and orchard productivity including monitoring soil moisture, plant-based stress measurements, and refining evapotranspiration (ET) to best represent the orchard conditions. Growers can learn more and access tools at

  • Testing for and, if needed, improving distribution uniformity (DU) in irrigation systems. Data has shown that monitoring and maintaining DU can substantially improve the return on investment in irrigation systems. Growers can refer to the Irrigation System Performance section of the Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum for more on irrigation efficiency and reach out to their local resource conservation district for testing. 

Nutrient Management 
  • Keep refining yield estimates to determine how much nitrogen fertilizer (N) is required. Since nitrogen demand is directly related to crop load, refining yield estimates can modify the amount of N applications remaining for the growing season and possibly reduce fertilizer costs.  

  • Utilize measurement tools to determine tree nutrient status. Both visual inspection of the orchard and well-timed leaf sampling can provide invaluable information that will allow growers to cut costs and maintain healthy trees. An example of this is that phosphorus applications are rarely needed for Central Valley soils. 

  • If potassium is needed, consider adding as a fertigation to improve uptake efficiencies  

  • Dial-in the logistics of the fertilizer delivery system. Fertigation should occur during the last third of each irrigation set to reduce leaching and ensure proper nutrient placement. Applying smaller quantities of fertilizer more frequently should also be considered to increase nutrient use efficiency. Growers can find more information about nutrient management, including the Nitrogen Best Management Practices guide, at  

Pest Management 

Spider Mites 

  • Rely on biological control to reduce the amount of mite sprays that are needed in the orchard. In orchards where pyrethroids or organophosphate applications are not used, no treatment is warranted if predators are present on 50% or more of the leaflets. UCCE Entomologist David Haviland detailed the research findings in a Training Tuesday webinar last year.   

  • Reduce dust in and around the orchard to curb the presence of mites. Minimizing travel on dirt roads and maintaining roads near the orchard can suppress mite pressure. 

Navel Orangeworm 

  • Timely harvest can protect against navel orangeworm (NOW), without additional cost. Monitor hull split in the bottom of your trees and be ready with your equipment as soon as possible. Early varieties that are harvested before the beginning of the third NOW flight, or late varieties that are harvested before the fourth flight, typically have reduced damage. 

  • Carefully evaluate the necessity and timing of a second hull split spray 

  • Implement winter sanitation practices to reduce NOW populations. Gowers can reference the Navel Orangeworm resource page at for more information. 

Weed management 
  • Consider mowing to prep the orchard floor for harvest. Combined with the use of conditioners, this can result in a clean harvest. 

  • Over the winter, assess to what extent the natural vegetation can provide cover crop benefits in the tree middles thus reducing some fall/winter herbicide sprays. 

Efficiency has never been so important to the bottom line for almond growers. During years with high input costs, efficiency in all aspects — irrigation, nutrient management, pest management — will help growers through difficult growing seasons.