A December tradition for Modesto is no more.
The Almond Board of California moved its annual conference because it had outgrown Modesto Centre Plaza, its longtime home.
The board still has its offices on the top floor of the adjacent DoubleTree Hotel, but the conference this week took place in Sacramento.
I covered the event via phone interviews, but I missed walking over to Centre Plaza and dropping in on the proceedings. In one room in past years, I could hear growers talking about the supply of pollinating bees. In another, I could hear a marketing expert talk about India's growing appetite for our almonds.
We lost the conference, but 2012 nonetheless was another banner year for this crop. It is second only to milk in gross income among farm products in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. And it is undoubtedly No. 1 in net income, since dairy profits keep getting squeezed by feed costs.
Blue Diamond Growers, which already has the world's largest almond processing plant in Salida, started building a Turlock plant that will do slicing, dicing and other value-added processing by spring.
The plant will employ about 110 people to start, joining the 400 in Salida and the 900 at Blue Diamond's offices and plant in Sacramento. Future phases in Turlock will add an undetermined number of jobs.
So Stanislaus County has cemented itself as a center of the state's almond industry. Make that the world's industry, as no other countries have figured out how to match California's combination of ideal growing conditions and efficient production.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected the 2012 crop at 2.1 billion pounds, though it's looking to be a little short of that.
(The USDA also estimated that the average kernel was 21.4 millimeters long. Your tax dollars did not pay for this; the Almond Board did.)
The average American ate 1.61 pounds of almonds in 2010, compared with less than a third of a pound in 1965, another USDA report said. It was more by far than walnuts (another important crop here), pistachios, pecans and other nuts.
(Peanuts topped them all at 6.9 pounds, but they are technically a legume rather than a nut.)
As big as it is, our almond industry will get bigger, especially with the spread of irrigation into the lower Sierra Nevada foothills.
The nuts are harvested by machine, so the growers do not have the same concerns about seasonal labor that hamper the peach and apricot industries.
Snackers have come to see almonds as healthy and affordable. The food industry keeps finding uses 4,757 "new product introductions" around the world in 2010 alone, according to a consulting firm that tracks such things.
A good part of those almonds will come from Stanislaus County, where the 2011 gross income was estimated at $628 million, up about 33 percent from 2005.
Speaking of 2005, that was when the median sale price of a Stanislaus County home peaked at $396,000. It has dropped by two-thirds since then. The collapse contributed to a national financial crisis and a delay in plans to build subdivisions on, you guessed it, some of our almond acreage.
Got an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact Bee staff writer John Holland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.