Almond Harvest: Sun and Sweepers

Posted September 8th, 2015 by Danielle Veenstra, Almond Board of California

This post was written by Almond Board staff member Danielle Veenstra, part of a third-generation almond growing family located in San Joaquin County. Specializing in agricultural and environmental affairs and with a background in natural resource management, Danielle’s grower perspective is valuable in her work at the Almond Board.

Fifty years ago my grandfather decided to convert his 40 acres of pasture to almond trees. Relatively new to the area, almonds were an interesting investment and meshed well with his existing custom farming business, which provided tractor work for nearby farmers. With my father now at the helm, my family’s 40 acres of almonds are still an important component of our farming business. Like nearly three-quarters of California Almond farms, our total acreage comes in at less than 100 acres, making our experiences similar to that of many in the California Almond growing community.

Having grown up in the industry, it’s easy for me to say that almond harvest is the busiest and most hectic part of growing almonds.  It’s also a very exciting time, where almond growers transform into the agricultural equivalent of orchestra maestros, monitoring a variety of factors to determine when to harvest – shake, sweep, and pick up – their crop. For smaller growers it also means contacting and coordinating with custom harvesters.

After the first major harvest event – being shaken off the tree  – almonds get to enjoy a quintessential California activity: laying out in the warm California sun. Almonds remain on the orchard floor for about a week using the natural power of the sun to dry down to the crunchy almond we all know and love.

Near the end of drying, the almonds carpeting the orchard floor are swept into neat rows to prepare for the final step of harvest: pick-up. To do this, an aptly named machine – the sweeper – drives down each orchard row using fans and sweeping tines to move almonds into windrows.

Before heading into the field, almond growers and sweeper operators carefully adjust the height of the machine’s sweeper component and blower fans to ensure that almonds are the main thing being swept and blown into rows – not soil from the orchard floor. All almond growers have access to a plethora of Almond Board resources that give quick tips and technical advice for how to properly adjust harvest equipment settings. In fact, as seen on our shop keys above, the bright yellow measuring tool is part of a newly released Almond Board harvest tool kit that my father picked up at a recent Almond Board workshop. It is used to ensure that sweeper tines are at the proper height to move almonds into rows while minimizing the disturbance to soil, the orchard floor and our neighbors.

With the almonds now in rows, they’re ready to be picked up, but only once the equipment is available. Some almond growers own all their almond harvest equipment; however for almond growers like my family, it doesn’t make economic sense to own equipment that is used only once a year.  Custom almond harvest companies fill this gap and serve many small growers. In the case of our orchard, family members with larger almond growing operations lend us harvest equipment.  Once the equipment is available, we can actually start bringing in the crop – and that’s a story for another blog entry.