Farmers anticipate near-record almond crop
By Christine Souza
Stanislaus County almond grower Darrell Cordova, right, and his son Trevor check the nut set on trees in their almond orchard in Denair.
Almond farmer Darrell Cordova and his son Trevor pose near a row of self-fertile Independence almond trees that Cordova says require only a half-hive of bees per acre, saving in pollination costs.
For the second time in three years, California almond growers may produce a crop of 2 billion pounds or more.
Based on telephone interviews with almond growers who were asked to report their almond yield per acre from last year and expected yield this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service issued an estimate of 2 billion pounds for the 2013 almond crop. Known as the subjective estimate, the forecast released last week is 6 percent above last year's production of 1.89 billion pounds. The estimated yield of 2,470 pounds per acre is up 3 percent compared to 2012.
Almond farmer Darrell Cordova of Denair, who owns Triple C Farms, said the subjective estimate is important for the almond business because it provides an opinion regarding the size and potential of the crop.
"The subjective estimate gives us a measure of clarity as far as having a close, approximate estimate for the current crop year," said Cordova, who grows about 240 acres of almonds. "It provides a sense of order on the market and gives us a starting point."
A week earlier, government crop forecasters predicted that bearing acreage of almonds would exceed 800,000 for the first time, with 810,000 acres of California orchards expected to produce almonds this year.
"We are encouraged by the increase in bearing acres and the forecast yield increase per acre," said Julie Adams, vice president of the Almond Board of California. "The California almond industry has a well-deserved reputation for the quality and safety of the crop; we look forward to continued consumer demand in line with this increase in almond supply."
Cordova sells almonds to Blue Diamond Growers—the world's largest almond processor—and to Hilltop Ranch Inc. in Ballico, a grower, seller and processor that ships for export and to North American manufacturers. He credited the Almond Board for increasing demand for almonds across the globe.
"The Almond Board has done such a great job of marketing around the world and opening up new markets that the industry could stand even more (almonds) and be all right," Cordova said. "More almonds are going to the Middle East, Africa and India. There's still a lot of potential out there in those same countries, as the population and the middle class grows."
Almonds are California's No. 1 farm export, with top foreign markets that include China, Spain, India and Germany.
Cordova said the development of many value-added products has been a significant factor in increasing worldwide demand.
"These have really taken off, like almond milk for example, which has seen growth of 40 percent or better and it has taken off in Australia," Cordova said. "It has received American Heart Association approval and has shown people that it's a healthy snack and more people are attracted to it."
Blue Diamond, a cooperative owned by more than half of the state's almond growers, unveiled a new Almond Innovation Center in Sacramento intended to create additional innovations in use of the nuts. Noting that almonds are already used in confections, food bars, cereals, bakery products, snacks and ice cream, Blue Diamond said its goal is to increase new almond product sales growth five-fold in the next five years.
While many farmers and marketers say they're encouraged by another large crop, Butte County almond grower Doug Rudd said he's apprehensive about what it may mean for the prices farmers will earn.
"Whenever we break or set a new record, we always see a decrease in the price. When you are on the producer side of this, with huge crops like this we typically don't see the return we otherwise would. It is the typical supply and demand," Rudd said.
USDA reported that the 2012 price to the grower averaged about $2.20 per pound. In 2011, when growers produced a record 2.03 billion-pound crop, the almond price averaged $1.99 per pound.
Rudd said he remains confident the crop will find a home, yet likely at a lower price.
"You can move a lot of product if you reduce the price and that's where my feelings come from, because I'm on the end of the chain here," said Rudd, who also grows prunes and rice.
In issuing its forecast, USDA took into account conditions during the early part of the growing season, noting that the winter started out wet and cold, followed by an almond bloom that was delayed by about two weeks. Cordova and Rudd both reported a great bloom in their respective areas, with time for honeybees to fly and pollinate the blossoms.
"It was a fairly fast bloom but because the weather was so good at the time, the bees got plenty of hours to work and that really helped to set the crop," Cordova said.
Growers in both regions reported strong winds that blew nuts off of the trees and, in some instances, knocked down trees.
As for water supply during the season, Cordova said he uses deep wells to irrigate, so he is cautious about when to pump in order to monitor costs. Another way he has helped curb costs this season is by using fewer honeybees during pollination.
"The last almond variety we planted was a self-fertile Dave Wilson variety called Independence, which requires only a half-hive per acre," said Cordova, who also grows an assortment of other almond varieties that require more typical bee activity. "Right now, those (Independence) trees are loaded, so I look forward to even higher production this year. In the third leaf, I got over 1,100 pounds to the acre."
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.