Thursday, April 2, 2015

Citrus bloom heightens growers' water worries


Navel orange trees are in bloom in the San Joaquin Valley and observers describe the bloom as "good," but farmers say a fourth year of drought and a second year with no surface water deliveries will make it hard to produce a crop. For some, it may be impossible.

"It's a heavy bloom this year, which is good," Tulare County citrus grower Matthew Watkins said. "But the trees know what's going on with the drought. They want to fruit and sense the lack of rain."

The heavy bloom means there will be fruit, Watkins said, "but the trick will be to keep it on the trees. To do that, we'll have to maintain a lower stress level on the trees, which means water. That's what I'm worried about."

Bloom in his area is about a month ahead of average because of the warm winter, he said, but with a heavy bloom and record heat last week, it doesn't take much to stress the trees.

This year, the citrus bloom was officially declared March 17 in southern Kern and Fresno counties, the exact same date as the previous year—which is unusual, said Bob Blakely, California Citrus Mutual vice president.

"We like to see an even bloom; we like to see uniformity," he said. "But both of these bloom dates are the earliest I've seen in more than 20 years."

Blakely said the bloom looks "fairly strong," but that temperatures in the coming week will be critical.

"If we're going into a prolonged heat spell, that could put stress on the trees coming right out of bloom," he said.

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