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Big almond crop grows in state’s orchards

Issue Date: June 17, 2020
By Christine Souza
Frenso County farmer Matthew Efird, who farms almonds near Caruthers, says a combination of the heavy almond crop and high winds caused damage to trees and broke branches in some orchards. The California almond crop this year is expected to be a record 3 billion pounds.
Photo/Christine Souza
Damaged almond trees await processing following high winds.
Photo/Christine Souza

Almond trees in the Central Valley carry a heavy crop this year—so heavy that during springtime windstorms, many of the shallow-rooted trees fell over or had branches split.

Anticipating a record crop of 3 billion pounds, marketers say they'll be monitoring impacts of the pandemic and of international trade negotiations. Crop losses related to the windstorms will have only a fractional impact on overall supplies.

"In Fresno, Madera and Kings, we had some pretty strong winds blowing through, in excess of 20 miles an hour; that's where we really start getting some issues," said Fresno County farmer Matthew Efird, who also grows walnuts, pistachios and peaches. "In 800 acres of trees, I might have lost 1 and a half to 2 acres of trees. With my older blocks, I've probably lost anywhere from 50 to 100 trees and with the young trees, we've probably had the same amount, but of those, we've only lost maybe 25. The rest, we can re-secure them and they'll recover."

University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Roger Duncan in Stanislaus County said, "You have a heavy crop and you have limb breakage, so in some ways it's a good problem to have." He said the valley experienced ideal bloom conditions in February with no rain, which allowed honeybees to pollinate and set the almond crop.

Eric Genzoli, who grows almonds with his family in Turlock and Hughson, said, "This was the best bloom in my lifetime and the best bloom my dad can remember; these trees are loaded."

Lee Heringer, who works as a pest control advisor for M&T Ranch west of Chico, said Sacramento Valley almond growers also experienced some tree losses and broken branches.

"A lot of times, it's the younger orchards where they're already producing a really good crop, but they don't have the structure yet to support it," Heringer said. "Up here, we had the best bloom weather we've had in years, and it shows."

Allen Peterson of Winton, who farms almonds in Merced and Stanislaus counties, said big crops bring broken branches—and this year, some market worries.

"It's certainly concerning when you have a world market that's so disrupted from the pandemic and also have the largest crop in history," Peterson said. "The combination makes me uneasy, but I think it'll all be OK."

As part of a UC report on effects of the pandemic, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist Brittney Goodrich noted that when shelter-in-place orders were implemented in March, California almonds, walnuts and pistachios all saw significant increases in domestic shipments as Americans stocked up on shelf-stable foods. But she said almond prices had declined below 2019 levels.

"Almond prices decreased 11% between January and April," Goodrich said. "This is likely a response to the record almond crop anticipated in addition to export demand disruptions."

At the Almond Board of California, President and CEO Richard Waycott said the almond business has "come through the first phase of COVID in pretty good shape."

"If you take the months of February to May, we're up about 10% in terms of U.S. shipments and we're also up with exports, so we're having a good year," Waycott said. "We've been shipping at record levels pretty much throughout the past six months," though he said shipments in May declined both domestically and internationally.

About two-thirds of California almonds sell on export markets, Goodrich said, and Waycott said the pandemic has caused logistical issues in the largest single export market, India. A lockdown during the pandemic, he said, "caused a shortage of truck drivers, port workers or courier workers."

"Traditionally in India, all of those in-shell nuts are shelled out at a facility by hand, so it was hard to get those plants back up and running," Waycott said.

In addition, he said, the pandemic has slowed negotiations aimed at addressing retaliatory tariffs imposed by India, China and Russia.

China, for example, has placed a retaliatory tariff of 55% on U.S. almonds. The biggest competitor to the U.S. in the market, Australia, has a free-trade agreement with China, "so, our Chinese volume has dropped way off," he said.

Even so, Waycott said, "In terms of global demand, we're very confident that we can market the 3 billion pounds."

The minimal carryover inventory of almonds from year to year remains about 300 million pounds, he said, and this year is expected to be about 340 million pounds, or about two months' worth of shipments. Almond shipments from the 2020 crop will not begin until the fall.

The UC report forecast that in the coming months, people will continue to eat more food than usual at home, and added that nuts are considered a healthy snack.

"The almond business is OK," Heringer said. "I think everything has kind of taken a dip right now with coronavirus primarily, but I think domestically almonds are doing pretty well because a lot of people are stocking up on some of the shelf-stable items and almonds are a good way to get protein."

An objective estimate of the crop from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on almond counts, is scheduled for release July 7. The current estimate of 3 billion pounds would represent a 17.6% increase from last year's record-setting crop.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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