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Heavy winter rains constrain Kern County almond crop

Kern County, Calif., almond farmer Don Davis is concerned by the recent downpour having an effect on his yield. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

For years, California farmers have been making the most of the drought, so it pains some to admit the higher-than-average rainfall this year has posed an issue.

At least that's according to Kern County almond farmer Don Davis. He grew up harvesting cotton with his father but switched to almonds in his nearly 500-acre family farm.

"I think if I'd have stayed in cotton, I'd be gone," he said, referencing the years of nearly no rainfall in the Central Valley that's plagued farmers. "Switching to almonds basically saved my career."

To keep up with the constraint of less precipitation, he said farmers have tuned up their wells and drilled new ones to more efficiently use water, but that hasn't always fixed the problem.

"That's a temporary thing," Davis said. "It's like living out of your savings account when you're not earning any money."

So what's the issue with the abnormally high rainfall totals this year? According to Davis, it's when it arrived.

"We're very relieved to see the rain and see things get back to normal," Davis said. "The real danger is that the rain comes during the bloom. We've gotta have bees out bouncing from flower to flower, and when the rains comes, the bees park in the hives. Every day that it rains, the crop gets smaller and smaller as the bees can't work."

Kern County Agriculture Department Assistant Director Glenn Fankhauser said almond farming boomed in the Central Valley partially because of the water crisis. In 2015, almond accounted for $1.49 billion in sales for county farmers, only second in commodities to grapes.

"Almonds have been coming up for a while," Fankhauser said. "They're not as susceptible to drought. If you have a tree that exists, it'll be much more tolerant to less water."

Still, farmers agree they'd much rather deal with too much water downpour than not enough.

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