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Almond industry seeks a new skipper

Almond Board CEO Richard Waycott stepping down at the end of 2023.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

February 2, 2023

3 Min Read
Almond Board President and CEO Richard Waycott
Almond Board President and CEO Richard Waycott speaks at the 2019 Almond Conference.Tim Hearden

When you’ve been at the helm of the U.S.S. Almond, steering the ship of state through troubled waters for over two decades now, turning over command is difficult to do, but that transition is the order of the day at Almond Board of California.

“Commander” Richard Waycott, president and CEO of ABC, has announced that after 21 years at the helm, it’s time to step back by the end of 2023 when his successor will be named.

“Our industry has had a 20-year history of success and expansion as almonds became the food they are today,” he told Western Farm Press.“All of agriculture, and certainly our marketplace, is now moving into a new phase requiring new leadership.”

Because of his leadership status, we expected Waycott to respond optimistically, but we also asked him to be realistic in commenting on the current rough seas faced by almond growers, an increasing list of hiccups they’re encountering:

“Our industry is family dominated, many of them being small farms, multi-generational, who make their own decisions as to what to plant, when to expand or when not to grow, and the market for those products.In general, we’ve now had 20-30 years of having almonds and other perennial crops being favored over more traditional row crops.The question now is --- will that continue?”

He cites the current Western water situation, especially in the Central Valley, that is causing some tough decisions to be made as well as the outlook for the coming years.“People are scratching their heads about the impact of SGMA and groundwater dependency, so it’s a time of transition for agriculture in the state and that footprint is going to shift and move based on water access.”

He also believes that what is currently planted will change over time in the Central Valley and he cites historical modifications involving the canning industry, millions of acres of cotton, asparagus, and plums that have undergone such radical shifts.“The future is not going to be the same distribution of crops it is today.”

Almonds are favorable

That’s where almonds (and pistachios) rank favorable.“They can’t be grown as well in other places and as long as the cost of production for almonds continues to be lower than the revenue they bring in, almonds should continue to be one of those preferred crops.My crystal ball still says businesses will continue to make decisions based on economic outlook and the cost of production, meaning almonds should continue to be one of the preferred crops.”

But that begs the question that while ABC’s global marketing efforts have proven successful, growers are now having to grow like crazy to meet that increased demand.

“A decision to enter the almond industry represents a multi-decade commitment and generational tree nut growers have been through both good and bad times with the good times sustaining through the not-so-good.If you look at history, which continues to repeat itself, cycles happen.The last two years, with record crops and shipping shutdowns, sort of disrupted normal commercial channels leaving the buyer-seller relationship in limbo.”

Although the seas have been choppy of late, Waycott expects smoother sailing ahead.“This has been a tough patch, but we’ve been here before and we’ll get through this one too,” he says.

With nearly a year left to keep the ship off the rocks in future storms, he acknowledges that in times of difficulty, it’s human nature to pull back a bit.Bad move, he feels.“That’s the time when the smart crowd presses forward even harder, you know, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

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