Wow! Almond crop is expected to break records despite cold, rainy weather

The almond harvest will hit a record 2.5 billion pounds in California this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected Friday.

Dicey weather around pollination did not keep the orchards from setting a strong crop, the two-page report said. The estimate is up 10 percent from the 2018 crop, also a record.

Stanislaus and Merced counties are among the leaders in the state, which grows about 80 percent of the world supply. San Joaquin County also is a part of it.

Brad Klump, a nut broker based near Escalon, said the 2019 figure did not surprise him.

“We didn’t have great bee flight hours during bloom, but after bloom it looked like it was better than last year,” he said.

Global demand remains solid despite recent tariffs in China, a major market, Klump said. This should keep per-pound prices for growers around an acceptable $2.50, about the same as 2018, he said.

The USDA based the projection on phone interviews with a sampling of growers from April 19 to May 4. A second estimate on July 3 will be based on measurements in orchards by the National Agricultural Statistics Service at the USDA.

The harvest runs from August to October. The almonds will be processed well into next year at plants that employ thousands of people around the Central Valley.

The vast majority of almonds go in plain form to makers of candy, cereal, baked goods and a host of other products. Some are processed in the Valley into items such as culinary nuts, almond milk and snack nuts.

Klump is a partner with the Roche family in the Nut Up line of snack almonds and butters, launched in 2017. They market almonds as a healthy food for motorsports fans and other customers.

Stanislaus County growers had an estimated $1.06 billion in gross income in 2017, according to its most recent annual crop report. Merced was at $596 million and San Joaquin at $363 million.

Friday’s report from the USDA noted heavy rain during the bloom from mid-February to mid-March, which could have hindered the honeybees brought in to pollinate the trees. An unusually long bloom helped out.

Then came periods of rain and high winds in early spring, but most of the almonds that emerged from the blossoms held on.

“Growers are optimistic as nuts appear to be sizing well,” the report said.

Part of the gain is from increased acreage. It is a record 1.17 million acres statewide this year, up from 1.09 million last year and 750,000 a decade ago.

The average yield per acre is up, too. The USDA projects it at 2,140 pounds this year, the eighth-highest on record.

Do the math — 1.17 million acres yielding an average of 2,140 pounds per acre — and you get 2,503,800,000 pounds.

The Almond Board of California, based in Modesto, pays for the annual projections.

“I am excited by the future of the California almond industry,” CEO Richard Waycott said in a news release Friday. He also noted the board’s efforts on pest management, water efficiency and other goals.