March/April 2023 - 22

Almondsin Idaho
The University of Idaho research orchard.
Photos: University of Idaho
The search for the state's new crop gem
he state of Idaho is a lead producer of many major
U.S. crops; it leads in potatoes, barley and hay,
and is second for sugar beets, hops, onions, wheat
and lentils. Tree nut production, however, has rarely been
attempted in the Gem State. Sub-zero winter temperatures
have long deterred exploring the viability of getting yields
from crops, such as almonds and walnuts.
A maturing research study at the University of Idaho,
however, may soon change that. Now in their sixth year,
almond trees being grown at the Parma Research and
Extension Center in Parma, Idaho, are starting to produce
yields. And for several of the varieties being tested there,
the results are now promising.
Under the direction of Professor Esmaeil Fallahi,
the pomology department at the Parma Research and
Extension Center studies and attempts to grow a host of
" alternative fruits " that may be able to survive in Idaho's
high pH soils. The program has already proven several
varieties of table grapes, quince and Asian pears to be
quite successful under the right conditions.
Pomologist Michael Kiester, operations manager at
the Parma facility, is working on an ongoing study of
an acre of almond trees and a half acre of walnut trees
being grown to test their viability in Idaho's tricky
intermountain climate.
" We've been growing almonds here and there for a
while, " said Kiester, " but when a couple rows of Sonora,
Monterey and Nonpareils did well, we decided to do
more. "
Now with a more sizable test orchard, Kiester and the
research team are eagerly awaiting results from the data
collected over the past two years. While a couple of the
walnut varieties have proved nonviable, so far all of the
almonds have fared well.
" No almond varieties we've planted here have been
lost, " said Kiester.
The USDA rates Parma as being in a zone 6a plant
hardiness zone, meaning average minimum temperatures
of -10° F to -5° F. But much of Idaho is even colder, in
zones 5, 4, and even 3. Kiester says it isn't uncommon
to see a temperature of -30° F sometime during the
year. Parma has dry summer heat, up into the 100s but
typically in the 80s and 90s, and wet springs. The last
frost of the spring is normally before May 10.

March/April 2023

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