Almond industry professionals are still grappling with the ramifications of the drought’s impact on this year’s crop yields, with one insider even calling July’s scaled-down National Agricultural Statistics Service estimate “extremely bullish.”
The agency’s Objective Estimate put this year’s crop at 2.8 billion meat pounds, down some 400 million pounds from the earlier Subjective Estimate in May. This even though almond acreage continues to grow with young trees maturing and this year’s bloom coming in close to perfection.
The NASS number is based on 1.33 million bearing acres and is at the low end of industry expectations which had been optimistically hovering in the 3-billion-pound range. Even Nonpareil, a variety representing close to 40% of the crop total, was forecast at 15% below last year’s supply.
The smaller numbers are being blamed on lack of rainfall and low water allocations in addition to extreme summer heat and recovery time required in stressed orchards from last year’s record high yield.
Bill Morecraft, Senior Vice President for Blue Diamond Growers, says, “First indications for the accuracy of the 2.8-billion-pound estimate won’t be known until late fall shipment reports when a significant amount of the crop will have been sold. Ongoing drought conditions will keep sellers moving forward cautiously until more is known regarding weather and snowpack moving into next year’s bloom.”
Mitchell Moreda keeps tabs of the nut numbers for Meridian Growers and says, “The extremely bullish 2.8 billion pound NASS Objective estimate along with strong shipment numbers portends big market moves. With the expected carry-out to be around 600 million pounds, this gives the industry around 3.4 billion pounds to market, some 4% less than the previous year with Nonpareil supplies expected to decrease by 20% from last year. With the low carry-out and virtually zero pounds of Nonpareil, this will surely result in a strengthened premium for this variety throughout the new season.”
Adds Morecraft: “With the prospect of ongoing drought, there remains room for an upside on pricing.”
In his August posting, Blue Diamond’s Mel Machado noted “widespread reports of drought impacts, particularly in southern San Joaquin Valley. Several orchards have been removed or abandoned in place. All areas along the west side of the Central Valley are being impacted and water, quality and quantity, remains a prime concern for growers in all areas.”
Those concerns considered, the Meridian Growers most recent almond shipment report was filled with optimism. “July figures represent the 11th record monthly shipment of 229.4 million pounds, up 27% from the previous year. Carryout for the season fell on the low end (597 million pounds) giving strength to market suppliers heading into the new season.
“With the low carryout and grower confidence continuing for the NASS number of 2.8 billion pounds, we expect prices to continue to firm throughout harvest and further into the season.
“In addition to the expected overall supply for the upcoming year, Nonpareil, the variety that represented 42% of last season’s production, is expected to decrease by 20% from last year. With the 597 million pound carryout and virtually zero pounds of Nonpareil, there should be robust industry demand into the new season which will result in a strengthened premium for the variety.”
Blue Diamond's latest figures posted in mid-August show the California almond industry closing out the year with shipments up 27% (49.3 million pounds) over last year. "With 600 million pounds as ending inventory and a 2.8 billion pound Objective Estimate, the 2021 total supply will be at or near the 3.5 billion pounds supply of last year," wrote Morecraft.