Cost-Benefit Guide

Cost comparison for almond orchard removal under three scenarios

The cost comparison below is intended as a rough guide only, using burning as the baseline scenario for comparison. Costs are based on 2016 UCCE cost-of-cultivation studies1 and on interviews with orchard removal companies in 2019. Details are given in numbered endnotes.

This cost table does not include fees for moving equipment in and out, which could be up to $500 total (not per acre). It also does not include costs of fumigation (roughly $1400 per acre for 14’ strips), planting (roughly $1400 per acre), or installing an irrigation system2 (roughly $1500 an acre). Those establishment costs are the same between the three scenarios3. Also not considered are future differences in pest or disease pressure, weeds, nutrient demand, kernel pounds per acre, etc. that may arise from different establishment practices.

Land preparation task Scenario 1:
Scenario 2:
Grind and haul
Scenario 3:
Grind and recycle
1. Pulling trees $200-$300/acre $200-$300/acre $200-$300/acre
2a. Grinding trees4 Not done $500-$700/acre $500-$700/acre
2b. Burning with permit $400-$500/acre Not done Not done
3. Spreading chips5 Not done Not done $125-$400/acre
4. Deep ripping6 $300-$700/acre $300-$700/acre $300-$700/acre
5. Discing7 $50-$80 (for 2x) $50-$80 (for 2x) $50-$160 (for 2-4x)
6. Plowing (optional) Not standard Not standard $0-$50/acre
7. Fallow (optional)8 Short-term opportunity cost; long-term returns Short-term opportunity cost; long-term returns Short-term opportunity cost; long-term returns
8. Land leveling $70/acre $70/acre $70/acre
9. Berms and floating $60/acre $60/acre $60/acre
TOTAL9 $1080-$1480/acre + $0-$200/acre + $125-$810/acre
  • 1.
  • 2. Irrigation: It can be beneficial to install (or, if already installed, start using) the irrigation system earlier on a recycled orchard block, before the trees are planted, to help chips break down prior to planting. If the prior orchard had flood irrigation, it can be beneficial to keep that system intact, even if the main system is microsprinklers or drip. Drip irrigation is ineffective in breaking down wood chips in the row middles.
  • 3. Hybrid approach: Some growers take an approach that is intermediate between Scenario 2 and Scenario 3, in which some chips are hauled away and some chips are recycled.
  • 4. Grinding trees: The cost and speed of grinding depends largely on the desired screen size. This is determined by user preference, rather than by the type of orchard disposal per se. Some biomass energy plants require a 2” screen size; others accept 4” or larger. Likewise, some growers practicing orchard recycling prefer a 2” screen size for faster decomposition of chips; others have found that a 4” screen produces adequate results. A horizontal grinder using a 4” screen can usually process roughly 1 acre per hour; if a 2” screen is used, the rate decreases to 0.5 to 0.75 acres per hour, costing an additional $100-$200 per acre.
  • 5. Spreading chips: The cost range for this step ($150-$400 per acre) depends on the volume of wood chips. As a rule, companies charge per load of chips (typical is $35 per load), not per acre. A mature almond orchard may produce about 5-8 loads per acre. (One load is usually about 25 cubic yards of chips, or about 8 tons.)
  • 6. Deep ripping: In recycled orchards, this should be done after, not before, the chips are spread. Deep ripping helps to begin the wood chip incorporation process. If laser leveling needs to be done before the deep ripping, the leveling can be done around the chip piles. Although 2’-3’ deep ripping is common, growers have found that 4’-6’ deep ripping is more effective for incorporating chips, though it increases the cost. Growers who don’t always do deep ripping as part of land preparation may want to consider adding it if they are recycling their old orchard.
  • 7. Discing: Although the basic process remains the same for each orchard disposal option, recycled orchards may need larger-diameter discs (e.g., 32” instead of 24”) and/or more passes in order to incorporate the wood chips. Plowing, especially with a plow that “flips” the soil (such as a switch plow), may be advisable in addition to discing.
  • 8. Fallow: Both recycled and non-recycled orchards can benefit from a fallow of 1-2 years to help restore soil health and reduce pest and disease pressure. Fallowing a recycled orchard can be especially helpful because it allows the chips to break down before the new orchard is planted, reducing the problem of nutrient immobilization. A fallow period allows the chips to be repeatedly treated to speed breakdown (with additions of water, nitrogen, manure, etc.) while on the surface. Fallowing a recycled orchard also allows more time for the more complicated land preparation tasks (including thorough spreading and deep incorporation of the chips).
  • 9. Subsidies: The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District offers a subsidy of $300-$600 per acre for wood chip grinding and spreading (without and with incorporation, respectively).