Drought intensifying pest problems on farms

FRESNO, Calif.

Almonds are starting to form in orchards all over the Valley but many growers worry whether they'll have enough water to bring this year's crop into production.

Growers like Eric Rushing hope their water supply holds up through summer because they'll be pumping groundwater to bring this crop to production.

"For this year yes," said Rushing. "As far as next year it depends on the water table levels. If they fall down below then we're at risk just like everybody else."

Rushing hosted an almond field day at his ranch. Experts talked of the challenges faced by the industry. Water tops the list. With so many growers facing zero or near zero allocations, some underground wells could go dry this summer because of constant pumping.

UC almond specialist David Doll said, "There's minimal understanding of the dynamics of what's going on, how fast that water recharges, how long that aquifer will hold and there's a lot of concern in communities."

But the drought presents other challenges as well. Integrated pest management entomologist Walt Bentley warned growers about a web spinning spider mite which is thriving under these drought conditions.

"It's amazing," said Bentley. "They're able to sense the stress on the tree. They distribute throughout the tree and actually scrape the juices from the leaves."

Experts say the drought has intensified pest pressure.

"We could be looking at infestation of bugs, again, because of the water situation," said Rushing. "It would stress the trees, make them weak."

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