Agriculture

Feds project 2 billion pounds of almonds

Almond Growers Talk Stewardship

The Almond Board of California showcased water conservation and other efforts during a tour near Ripon, Calif., on Friday, May 6, 2016. (John Holland/jholland@modbee.com)
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The Almond Board of California showcased water conservation and other efforts during a tour near Ripon, Calif., on Friday, May 6, 2016. (John Holland/jholland@modbee.com)

The state’s almond orchards will yield 2 billion pounds this year, the third most ever, a federal agency projected Tuesday.

Observers said the crop will help meet growing demand around the world while not putting downward pressure on grower prices, which have dropped sharply since last year.

“I think that right now it’s a pretty good number for the almond industry,” said Kevin Fondse, a grower in the Ripon area.

California provides about 80 percent of the world’s almonds, and about a third of the state’s volume is in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service based the estimate on a telephone survey of growers representing 27 percent of the acreage. A second and final projection, based on measurements in orchards, will be released July 6. The harvest will run from August to mid-fall.

The 2016 projection – exactly 2 billion pounds – is up 6 percent from the 1.89 billion pounds harvested in 2015. The highest on record is 2.03 billion pounds in 2011.

The agency reported about 900,000 bearing acres of almonds this year, up from 890,000 in 2015. The average acre is expected to yield 2,220 pounds, the fifth best on record.

The report said water supplies are less of a concern than last year, but California remains in a drought even with the storms of winter and spring.

Grower prices hover around $2 per pound, down from a peak of nearly $5 during part of 2015. Fondse said the prices got too high for some almond buyers, especially in China, a major market. The industry also is contending with the dollar’s strengthening against other currencies, which makes U.S. goods more expensive abroad.

Grower and processor Dave Long, president of Hilltop Ranch Inc. near Ballico, said the crop estimate will likely add 5 to 10 cents to the price.

“I think that these new prices are realistic and will increase demand for almonds,” Long said. He added that this is enough to cover the cost of farming, except for growers with high loan costs for land purchases.

Despite the recent price swings, almonds have a bright outlook over the long term. Consumers are eating them up thanks to publicity about how they can protect against cancer, obesity and other ills. The trees are harvested by machine, much cheaper than the hand labor needed for peaches and other fruit.

The industry has drawn fire over its use of water during the drought to grow a crop that is mostly exported. It has responded by pointing out that the water use is similar to many crops and that almonds generate about 97,000 jobs in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

Last week, the Almond Board of California held its annual tour that highlights water conservation, pest management and other practices for regulators and the media. It took place at Travaille and Phippen Inc., which grows and processes nuts near Ripon.

“We are getting a lot more questions about how our almonds are grown,” said tour guide Nick Gatzman, who helps manage the operation.

He displayed a soil moisture probe that assures that the trees get only the water they need. He told how nitrogen fertilizer is delivered through the drip irrigation lines and monitored so it does not taint drinking water underground.

Gatzman described how insect traps in the trees help determine when pesticide spraying is needed. And he told how an especially troublesome pest, the navel orangeworm, is denied places to lay eggs by removal of lingering nuts after harvest.

Travaille and Phippen produces about 30 million pounds of almonds per year from its own 1,500 acres and other California growers. The company employs about 50 people year-round and about 15 more at harvest.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

California almond crop (pounds)

2005: 915 million

2006: 1.12 billion

2007: 1.39 billion

2008: 1.63 billion

2009: 1.41 billion

2010: 1.64 billion

2011: 2.03 billion

2012: 1.89 billion

2013: 2.01 billion

2014: 1.87 billion

2015: 1.89 billion

2016: 2 billion*

*projected

AVERAGE PRICE (per pound to growers)

2005: $2.81

2006: $2.06

2007: $1.75

2008: $1.45

2009: $1.65

2010: $1.79

2011: $1.99

2012: $2.58

2013: $3.21

2014: $3.19

2015: not yet available

2016: not yet available

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service

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