By The Certis Team
The United States is the second largest producer of tree nuts worldwide, and the main types of tree nuts produced include almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts.
Specifically, California produces over 90% of tree nut production value, growing mostly almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. The main commercial producers of pecans include New Mexico, Georgia, Arizona, and Oklahoma.
While the US remains a top producer and consumer of tree nuts, environmental concerns are an ever-present concern of growers across the nation. Other top concerns range from water shortage issues, labor shortfall, and trade issues that challenge the sustainability of expanding tree nut production in the US.
Let’s dig into these challenges and identify solutions for overcoming them to increase yield.
Growing Challenges in Tree Nut Production
A variety of issues exist that challenge tree nut growers. Unfortunately, many of these issues are out of your control, but it’s important to have awareness of potential threats to your tree nut yield.
Tree nut growing in particular can face environmental challenges because of the time it takes, and we can’t control the weather or other cultural factors.
US consumers enjoy tree nuts to provide plant-based protein, fats, fiber, and micronutrients, but the production is highly consumptive of water resources, which can be an issue in some climates. Because it takes 3-5 years for many nut trees to reach full growth, you cannot foresee specific weather forecasts, but you can look at overall weather patterns in your area.
Climate change has an impact on crop growth because warmer winters create higher probability for drought. Drought is one of the top concerns for tree nut growers in California and other states that have faced multiple years with hotter weather and less rainfall, which has resulted in more groundwater management regulations, putting more pressure on growers.
Labor and Trade Issues
Another rising concern for tree nut growers is labor shortages in specialty crop operations.
With ever-changing immigration policies, labor requirements, and state mandates for stricter and costlier labor regulations, growers must consider how to keep production moving. Most tree nuts can now be mechanically harvested, but it is still a labor-intensive endeavor, and labor shortages and regulations may cause more than a 20% increase in the cost of labor for tree nut farming.
The other problem that has emerged in recent years involves international trade issues.
Since 2018, many countries including China, India, and Turkey, have enforced retaliatory tariffs on US tree nuts. The US has also suspended free trade negotiations and pulled out of trade agreements, which has diverted export markets rather than increasing trade revenue in the industry.
Solutions to Improve Tree Nut Yield
Although there are many potential challenges to growing tree nuts as a specialty crop in the US, the good news is that consumer demand is increasing.
Consumers are more motivated to choose healthy and plant-based foods that are driving an increase in nut production and consumption. Government nutrition assistance programs and Farm Bills also encourage consumers to consume nuts and fresh produce to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Therefore, the specialty crop industry including tree nuts is expected to continue growing over the next five years (and beyond). Plus, there are a few areas that you can control when it comes to increasing your tree nut yield.
Soil Moisture and pH
To increase the health of your tree nut crops, it’s time to take a deeper look at your soil.
Depending on the type of tree nuts that you’re growing, the type of soil you need will vary. You must make sure that trees are planted with the ideal soil type with appropriate moisture and pH. The pH of soil affects how many nutrients and chemicals are soluble, which will determine the amount of nutrients available to plants. Some trees thrive in acidic conditions, while others perform better under alkaline conditions.
For example, almond trees need deep, loamy soil that absorbs water quickly with good drainage and varying pH, but pecan trees thrive in wet to moist loamy or sandy soil and specific pH of 6.0-6.5 for higher yield.
Best Practices to Increase Tree Nut Yield
Although you can’t control environmental or cultural situations that arise, you can make the best of crop growth by taking care of your trees by using preventive methods to fight pests and disease.
Ideally, you should prep the soil with an effective biofungicide for organic crop production or as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) program. This will fight fungal and bacterial pathogens in the soil to encourage higher crop yield by allowing roots to remain healthy and functioning at optimum capacity.
Take proper care of soil and crops as they grow throughout the seasons through fertilizing soil and treating any ongoing pest issues.
Learn more about biofungicides and their field performance to protect tree nut crops and yield.