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California almond farmers face tough choices

February 24, 2014 • Business


Alan Thompson of G&F Agri Service LLC explains how his firm turns almond trees into wood chips at Baker Farming Company in Firebaugh, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The state’s drought has forced farmers to remove some almond orchards earlier than they normally would because they don’t expect to have enough irrigation water. Thompson said the drought hurting farmers has increased his business by about 75 percent. (AP Photo/Scott Smith)

FIREBAUGH, Calif. (AP) — With California’s agricultural heartland entrenched in drought, almond farmers are letting orchards dry up and in some cases making the tough call to have their trees torn out of the ground, leaving behind empty fields.

In California’s Central Valley, Barry Baker is one of many who hired a crew that brought in large rumbling equipment to perform the grim task in a cloud of dust.

A tractor operator drove heavy steel shanks into the ground to loosen the roots and knock the trees over. Another operator, driving a brush loader equipped with a fork-like implement on the front, scooped up the trees and root balls and pushed them into a pile, where an excavator driver grabbed them up in clusters with a clawing grapple. The trees were fed into a grinder that spit wood chips into piles to be hauled away by the truckload and burned as fuel in a power plant.

Baker, 54, of Baker Farming Company, has decided to remove 20 percent of his trees before they have passed their prime. There’s simply not enough water to satisfy all 5,000 acres of almonds, he said. “Hopefully, I don’t have to Login to read more

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