The Summer issue of the Central California Almond Growers Association newsletter carried comments of interest to all industry players, written by CCAGA President Michael Kelley.
After bringing in a record crop for the state and the association last year during which 155,267,678 pounds of meat equivalent were shelled out, Kelley reported to members: “We’ve heard reports of growers pushing over orchards in their prime as they try to augment water needs. Additionally, we’ve heard reports of growers shaking early in hopes that in certain water-stressed areas, the trees just might make it through the summer, suffering minimal damage, and returning to production next year.
“Another alarming situation occurring all over the San Joaquin Valley is the sale of almond orchards by long-time farming families, primarily due to inflated almond acreage prices, the lack of clear direction regarding water policy, and the myriad of regulatory burdens from state and federal agencies,” Kelley wrote.
“Farming has gone from a field venture to a desk job to stay in compliance with requests for information and submission of reports. If we do not strive to protect and preserve these vital ranches and their ability to produce crops, the entire fabric and potential of our beloved San Joaquin Valley may be lost.”
That’s some pretty heavy editorial that begs for additional follow-up details.
Speaking with Western Farm Press, Kelley said: “Reference this year’s marginally lower crop following back-to-back record years, the trees were a bit tired and drought took some weight out of what the crop might have been.”
Expounding on the pushing-over-orchards comment, he said: “There are growers who, once their water allocation was known — which was basically zero — knew there wasn’t enough water to sustain quality in the acres of almonds they had, so they made the financial decision to push trees over. It wasn’t a lot, but it was still way too many acres and it’s a shame.”
Elaborating on the early harvesting reports, he added: “Some growers felt if they shook almonds early, trees might be able to survive during the current water dilemma, then be able to produce a crop in a subsequent year --- which is a great idea ... as long as the drought doesn’t continue.”
Fabric of ag changing
More to the point of where the industry is headed, Kelley said: “The fabric of agriculture is changing. Growers, many of whom are getting close to retirement age, are saying that farming is no longer fun and asking themselves if it’s worthwhile continuing to plant and plow. In a lot of instances, they can get quite a bit of money per acre for their farmland.”
As to the future of almond-growing based on today’s complexities? “We’re in kind of a magical area in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley in a low-cost water area,” Kelley said. “So, while there may be reductions in almond orchards themselves, some of the lower-value crops will be the ones to suffer. Conceivably, the cast of players on the stage will change because there’s been a lot of buyouts.”
In a pre-harvest message to growers, Kelley said, “Growers don’t need to be in a hurry just because this year will be an 'off' crop. We need delivered crops to be clean, so slow down the sweepers and be more efficient. If you have an almond, a stick, a stone, or a dirt ball mixed together, the almond will lose every time. Growers need to work on getting foreign material out of the product before it gets to the sheller where that stuff can have a detrimental effect on the product itself, lowering the value of the almond.”