Agriculture

Rain whets the harvest

Scott Phippen of Travaille and Phippen Inc. is busy with calls from growers asking to stockpile their almond crop head of rain predicted this weekend. A loader is at work in the background. At top, a close-up of the almond meat.
Scott Phippen of Travaille and Phippen Inc. is busy with calls from growers asking to stockpile their almond crop head of rain predicted this weekend. A loader is at work in the background. At top, a close-up of the almond meat. Modesto Bee

With nuts on the ground, almond growers cringed at the sight of rain clouds Friday.

The sky was expected to open up late Friday night and rain showers were expected in the Northern San Joaquin Valley until this afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

From a quarter-inch to a half-inch of rain is predicted for the valley and 1 to 2 inches in the foothills.

"It's what we call an all-hands-on-deck situation," said Scott Phippen, who hulls, shells, packs, ships and grows almonds.

Rain clouds over drying nuts is bad news. Rain means it will take longer to dry the nuts and there's a greater chance they will be damaged.

That's a problem for growers who have nurtured millions of dollars worth of nuts this year. Last year, growers in Stanislaus County made an estimated $466 million.

"Our industry prefers not to have rain during harvest, but it happens probably 50 percent of the time," said Richard Waycott, president of the Almond Board of California.

Wet nuts have to stay on the ground longer, which means they will be more susceptible to insect damage. Rain could lead to mold, a problem that could close off some growers to the European market. Europe does not import almonds with aflatoxin, a type of mold almonds are susceptible to when it rains, because it's a suspected carcinogen, Phippen said.

Growers tried to dodge the problem by harvesting as much as they could. Starting midweek, when word of rain began to circulate, they called hullers and sellers to move up their collection dates.

Operations such as Travaille and Phippen Inc. in Manteca collected as much of the nuts as they could to be stockpiled until they can be processed.

Whatever gets wet will stay on the ground until it's dry.

Generally, almond hullers themselves are hardest hit as they scurry to help other growers.

"We take care of our customers first," Phippen said.

This year's harvest is expected to break records. The harvest began about the second week of August. It's generally finished by mid-October. This year's harvest could finish after Thanksgiving, Phippen said.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.

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