Playing the Long Game in Almond Production

Micronutrients increase almond tree yields.

September 26, 2023
6 mins
Christi Falen

Growing almonds means playing the long game.

An almond tree can live for 20 years or more, so an orchard must be well managed to produce the best crop this year and into the future.

Balanced nutrition is important for almonds, as it is for any crop. As agronomists, we work with the grower to determine what the crop needs based on what soil and tissue samples reveal. We consider both individual nutrients as well as crop nutrition as a whole.

Exciting new innovations are proving that small, precise changes in nutrition can create significant benefits that make trees healthier and more productive, improving the orchard’s overall viability.

Macros and Micros

Nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) are critical nutrients needed in larger quantities for almond production. In California almond orchards, the amount of K in the soil varies greatly and moisture impacts how much the tree can utilize. University research (by Dr. Patrick Brown and team) is underway exploring new technologies to quantify and manage K, plus tree water content in California almond production.

In addition to macronutrients, scientific advancements and research are teaching us more about how micronutrients can benefit almonds by improving N-use efficiency, mitigating stress, and increasing yield. And when optimizing irrigation along with macro and micronutrients, we can help the plant’s resilience and overall health in varied growing conditions.


It doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Even a very small amount of micronutrients can make a difference. Cobalt and molybdenum are micronutrients in ICL’s Nova ELEVATE™ product. This water-soluble fertilizer is applied as a foliar at the pink bud stage. Dr. Patrick Brown at the University of California Davis conducted a small-scale research trial with the same quantities of micronutrients and found a 20% increase in yield – that’s about 500 pounds per acre.

We’re excited about the promising benefits from foliar applications of Nova ELEVATE. Together, the micronutrients in this product create a combined effect that improves N-use efficiency. Each nutrient contributes in its own way.

  • Molybdenum (M0) helps the plant use N it takes up in the soil and reduce nitrates to ammonium for amino acid formation. Adequate Mo and N aids in flower formation and fruit set, and increases chlorophyll in the leaves.
  • Cobalt (Co) helps to regulate oxygen and ethylene production. Without this regulation, too much ethylene will cause the crop to mature too soon, and yield will drop below potential. It can also serve as an activator to help with nutrient uptake.

Withstanding Stress

Micronutrients can also help trees cope with stressors. In a typical year, almond trees experience a variety of stress, including dry conditions and frost. During the summer, heat can significantly strain crops in the West and trees that don’t have adequate nutrition do not fare as well.

In stressful conditions, boron toxicity can severely damage almond trees. Excess boron may be present in the soil or water supply. It does not cause an immediate loss, but causes the tree to experience a slow death.

However, boron is a necessary nutrient that promotes fruit set. Growers are looking at ways to filter boron out, then put it back on the trees as needed.

The micronutrients in Nova ELEVATE and overall balanced nutrition, promote tree health to help mitigate stresses.

The Long Game

Nutrient management is critical for maintaining an almond orchard for the long term. We often apply 20 percent of the N needed post-harvest so it is taken up into the tree for recovery from harvest, and promotes the trees getting off to a strong start in the spring. Also, post-harvest K and calcium (Ca) play an important role. They help build strong cells and spur for future yields, fight stressors and improve the overall life of the tree.

We work with retailers and growers to help make almond production more sustainable in a variety of ways. Most of today’s orchards are irrigated with a drip line that delivers a precise amount of moisture directly to the tree. We can fertigate and deliver both water and a water-soluble product through irrigation lines; these include Nova HiPeak® (0-44-44), Nova PeKacid® (0-60-20), or the Agrolution® suite of options. This allows us to precisely apply the nutrients and water needed to maximize yield and quality.

Researchers and growers have found some other ways to add nutrients back into orchards, including:

  • Using hulls and shells that are removed from the harvested nuts and putting them back on the soil in the orchard. This allows the trees to use K that breaks down from the hulls/shells.
  • Incorporating compatible cover crops and/or compost that deliver nutrients back to the orchard’s almond trees.
  • Applying Polysulphate® dry fertilizer for sustained release of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur with the release pattern matching crop uptake so more nutrients are taken into the tree. Polysulphate has a low carbon footprint and is licensed for organic production. It can be applied post-harvest (Standard Polysulphate) or in the spring (Granular Polysulphate).

Managing nutrients throughout the growing and harvest cycle is invaluable as you play the long game in almond production. When we apply micronutrients as a foliar, it improves N use efficiency, mitigates stressors, and helps plants stay healthier overall. This long-term strategy is important in yielding benefits for years (hopefully decades!) to come.