Agriculture

California almond harvest likely to set record, feds say

Almonds come out of a machine at Blue Diamond Growers.
Almonds come out of a machine at Blue Diamond Growers. Blue Diamond Growers

A federal agency projects a record almond crop in California this year, based on sampling results announced Wednesday.

The orchards will yield an estimated 2.05 billion pounds, up from an even 2 billion in a May projection, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported. It would eclipse the record of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011 if the forecast pans out during a harvest starting next month in Stanislaus and other counties.

The agency based the May estimate on a telephone survey of growers about how the nuts were developing. Wednesday’s number came from detailed measurements in a sampling of orchards.

The surveys are funded by the Modesto-based Almond Board of California. The state grows about 80 percent of the world’s supply, and about a third of the volume is in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The board used the occasion to again refute claims that almonds have used too much water during the past half-decade of drought. Use has dropped by a third per pound of nuts since 1994, said Richard Waycott, president and chief executive officer, in a news release.

“With its Mediterranean climate and innovative advancements in production techniques, California is the ideal place to grow almonds,” he said.

They have become a leading farm product in the region and state, thanks in part to studies showing that they are a healthy form of fat and protein. Growers harvest with machines, reducing their labor costs compared with fruit orchards.

The price they got per pound shot up over the past two years, to close to $5, then dropped to about $2 in the spring. Industry people say the lower price helps retain buyers around the world while covering farm costs.

The California industry generates about 100,000 jobs and adds about $11 billion a year to the state’s economy, said board chairman and Kern County grower Mike Mason, in the release.

“Growing this valuable, nutritious nut represents a long-term investment by almond growers that substantially benefits California’s economy,” he said.

Wednesday’s report said the crop is benefiting from the easing of the drought in some areas and good conditions during pollination by bees in late winter.

About 900,000 acres bear almonds, up about a third over the past decade, the surveyors said. They estimated an average yield per acre this year of 2,280 pounds, short of the record 2,540 in 2011.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

California almond crop (in 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: 2.05 billion*

*projected

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service

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