This week’s objective almond survey raised some eyebrows with its optimistic outlook of 2.45 billion pounds of nuts from the upcoming harvest. I say “optimistic” because at least two things will factor into that number: unforeseen impacts from the freeze we had last February during the bloom and the Navel orangeworm (NOW).
While Mother Nature already had her say, the NOW moth is not without a vote in the matter.
Each year the National Agricultural Statistics Service puts out two predictions on the upcoming almond crop. The first is based on phone interviews with growers willing to talk and predict what they think is on the trees. The May forecast, or “subjective estimate” pegged this year’s crop at 2.3 billion pounds.
The second, and arguably more credible number because of the scientific method used to count nuts, comes about a month ahead of harvest. Based on figures provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that estimate is typically close – surely within statistical norms.
For instance, last year’s final number of 2.27 billion pounds almost hit the objective target of 2.25 billion pounds and was close enough to the subjective forecast a couple months earlier as to be statistically insignificant.
Looking back to 2005 the objective measurement and actual receipts have tracked close to each other, except for 2012, 2013, and 2014, when the measurements were off as much as 200 million pounds from final numbers. In 2012 the USDA over-predicted the crop by about 200 million pounds. The following year’s measurement under-estimated the crop by more than 100 million pounds and the next year that spread was more than 200 million pounds in the opposite direction.
I like what Warren Cohen, vice president of sales for the large grower cooperative Blue Diamond almonds writes in a company statement published online. In short, Cohen says the industry (and the world) must wait until the Almond Board of California releases its November shipment report to gauge the USDA prediction.
Cohen wasn’t the only one surprised. I spoke by phone with Michael Kelley, president of the huller/sheller cooperative Central California Almond Growers Association. Kelley was traveling when the announcement was made and mine was the first news he had on the forecast. His words and tone of voice clearly conveyed his surprise at the number.
One industry leader joked that he is now unqualified to predict almond yields after significant weather-related events such as the February freeze. We watched and heard stories about temperatures in the upper teens and low 20s that decimated some orchards.
Anecdotally, it looks like a mediocre yield from what I’ve seen on various trees. That’s not just my unqualified opinion. Some I’ve spoken with seem to agree. But, to paraphrase Cohen: we must wait and see, and not just whether the USDA was right; but, how marketable yields are impacted by the Navel orangeworm.