At this time of the year, many farmers are looking through the books and realizing the financial return of their orchard operations. With a profit, money can be spent on orchard improvements and equipment, which often have tax saving benefits. In the case of a negative return, operations should be reviewed and a strategy should be developed and implemented to make the orchard profitable.
Regardless of returns, the following should be considered to help make orchard operations run more efficiently for next (and future) seasons.
1. Equipment purchases: Many farmers complain about not having enough time to provide adequate spray coverage during bloom and hull-split. This often leads to spray applications that are applied at too fast of speeds. It may be prudent to consider adding another spray rig to increase the timeliness of sprays.
2. Well construction and pump maintenance. There are a lot of new wells being installed. There are many important considerations to make when drilling a well, and its also best to have some understanding of the ground water hydrology within your area. This is a good time to consider testing pump efficiency, pump and well overhauls, purchasing of new pumps (maybe a new variable flow?), and other basic infrastructure changes (solar panels, power poles and hook-ups, etc.).
3. Irrigation System Maintenance. Work in Kern County with Blake Sanden and The Irrigation Mobile Lab, found that the distribution uniformity for drip systems was only slightly better than furrow irrigation – due to lack of maintenance! Changing orchard lines that are often leaky or “overly” plugged, replacing emitters that aren’t maintaining performance, removing/replacing hose screens, filter repair, and replacing valves and pressure regulators will help improve distribution uniformity. Remember, a system with a 75% distribution uniformity takes 16% more water to irrigate than a system with 90% DU.
4. Other irrigation equipment. Systems that monitor soil moisture are useful in modifying in-season irrigation scheduling. Many of these need to be installed several weeks in advanced so they will “set” and work properly. Neutron probe tubes need to be augered to specific depths, which is often easier when the soil moisture has been restored. The purchase and use of a pressure chamber can be used to monitor plant stress and help time irrigation.
5. Purchasing of nutrients. Soil types with high cation exchange capacities have the ability to store large amounts of cations. In these soils, potassium can be “slugged on” and build reserves for future years. Since the break up of the potassium cartels, prices of potassium have dropped which may increase feasibility of a large application. Applying gypsum or other calcium sources will help “bump off” sodium cations in the soil, increase the leaching of sodium, and help reduce sodium ion toxicity. Make sure that calcium is applied before potassium in low exchange capacity soils in order to prevent leaching of potassium below the root zone. It is not advised to apply nitrogen in the dormant period.
There are many more purchases that should be considered, but this is a short “laundry list” of items that often discussed during phone calls and farm visits through the year.
Final note: It should also be mentioned that donations made to non-profit organizations are also tax deductible. Consider making donations to organizations that provide assistance or align with your beliefs. Good examples include various farmland trust organizations, local cooperative extension offices (yes, I’m biased), disabled veteran’s programs, and many more.