better choices. and farm advisors often use a leaf % N target of 2.5% for an orchard sample. A good point to note: N and/or K deficient trees this year – based on July leaf analysis -- will set fewer nuts next year than trees with adequate N or K. What are the non-fertilizer nutrient sources and general soil conditions in an orchard? Soil sample analyses can provide valuable information. Some soils are naturally high in potassium. A soil test of potassium from the last 2-3 years is a good thing to have. Other locations might receive 2-4 acre feet of irrigation water high in nitrate and so get 50+ pounds of “free” nitrogen in a season. Soil analysis results for pH, salinity, and toxic elements – sodium, chloride, and boron – are important pieces of the puzzle. Are cover crops or compost used to improve soil health and provide additional nitrogen? How much added nitrogen could those sources provide? For answers to these and similar questions, see UC ANR’s Guide to Efficient Nitrogen Fertilizer Use in Walnut Orchards (Pub no. 21623) available through http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu. What was the fertilizer program last year? From last year’s yield data and fertilizer inputs, calculate the orchard use efficiency (NUE) – the ratio of fertilizer applied to nutrient content of the crop. A goal of close to 100% efficiency is a sustainable target, while 40-80% nitrogen NUE, based on flood/solid set or micro-irrigation, respectively, may be more realistic. Big crops and light inputs mean net losses in tree and/or soil nutrient reserves that could hurt production before too long. Big crops and bigger inputs may not be sustainable farming. [Why care about sustainable farming? Many customers – particularly in high value export markets – want it. Paying attention to efficient, sustainable production will save the grower some money and give the customer what they want.] Finally, some way of recording what is decided is needed and an appropriate beverage is always helpful. So, once you and your customer have the answers to these questions, how can the answers be used in a review and planning session? Make an appointment, bring the information and your notes and meet with the grower. Here are my thoughts on where to start. The ultimate report card for the year is crop yield and quality relative to regional production that year and historical production in an orchard. Good to great yields plus good, not excessive, tree vigor and adequate nutrient levels in the July leaf sampling should be a positive report card for the season. In addition to looking at yield numbers and orchard vigor, John Edstrom, UC Farm Advisor in Colusa County and Research Coordinator at the Nickels
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