The state's almond orchards will yield a record 1.46 billion pounds of nuts this summer, the federal government projected Wednesday.
The estimate, closely watched in the industry because of its influence on prices, is 6 percent more than the 2007 harvest.
It's a much smaller increase than the nearly 25 percent in 2006 and 2007, but that's not a bad thing, said Richard Waycott, chief executive officer of the Almond Board of California.
"With any agricultural crop, you certainly want to be consistent and not have large swings," he said.
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As usual, the harvest projection was announced at the stroke of noon at the Almond Board headquarters atop the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Modesto.
The increase resulted from favorable weather in 2008, including mild days during the crucial pollination by honeybees in February, said Doug Flohr, a statistician for the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Bee experts this week reported another decline in U.S. colony numbers, for reasons that have yet to be determined, but it did not affect the almond crop.
Almond industry people say the steady increase in the annual harvest will allow them to meet the growing demand around the world without creating a surplus that depresses the prices paid to growers.
Prices last year were down from the spikes of 2005 but above the unprofitable levels around 2000.
Wednesday's forecast was based on a telephone survey of growers in late April and early May covering 18 percent of the state's 660,000 acres of almonds.
A second estimate, based on actual measurements of sample nuts by federal workers, will be released June 30. The harvest will start in August.
The acreage is up 45,000 from last year, but the estimated yield per acre -- 2,210 pounds on average -- is down from last year's record 2,240 pounds.
Almonds are No. 2 in gross income among farm products in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, trailing only milk. They brought an estimated $833 million to growers in 2006.
California grows 80 percent of the world's almonds. They are the state's No. 1 farm export.
Most of the nuts will go to candy companies, commercial bakers and other large users, while others will be packaged for snacks or home cooking.
Waycott said the record 2007 crop is moving well, and the next one will do the same.
Although the almond pollination went well, farmers in general are concerned about the continuing bee losses. Tuesday, the Apiary Inspectors of America reported that 36.1 percent of the nation's commercial hives have been lost since last year.
It's clear the insects are buckling under the weight of new diseases, pesticide drift and old enemies such as the parasitic varroa mite, said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, president of the group.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2385.