A new variety of almond that does not rely on bees or an adjacent, different almond tree for pollination is now available. Decades-long research at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in the San Joaquin Valley began with a European self-pollinating variety and culminated in the development of the new Yorizane.

Craig Ledbetter, a research geneticist at the ARS lab in Parlier, Calif., began a breeding program focused on self-pollinating almonds in the mid-1990s in response to concerns that a non-native bee might reach the region and decimate the honeybee populations that pollinate almond orchards. Yorizane is the “first thing that’s come out of the almond breeding effort for me,” Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter says while selecting for self-fertility was the first priority, he also wanted an almond that would differ from the original European source in other ways. That one, called Tuono, has more shell than typical California almonds, meaning less valuable kernel weight per pound of harvest than US growers expect. Also, the taste and feel of the nut was different and Ledbetter was after a new variety that could fit into the existing market. So after self-fertility, he selected for kernel quality, shell type (to prevent ones easily breeched by pests) and yield.

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The result is an almond that is a different size and shape from the dominant nonpareil variety, but fits into the broader California class. Ledbetter says with varieties that can’t self-pollinate, growers plant patterns of two different varieties. “There’s an advantage of having a solid block” of one variety, he said, because irrigation, spraying and harvesting all happen at the same time for all the trees.

Ledbetter said in regional trials Yorizane was treated the same and performed similarly to the other varieties. Yorizane trees will be available in limited numbers next year, with more in 2023, he said.

The almond breeding program received no industry or commodity group funding, he said, though the Almond Board of California is thanked in the research paper, published in the journal HortScience, for supporting regional variety trials. 

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