The problem isn’t always something obvious and right in front of your eyes. In this case, things started to go downhill throughout the West — California, Washington, Oregon, and the like —months ago.
In June/July 2021, a heat dome arrived sending temperatures to record heights (like 113 in Wenatchee, Washington) and in one seven day period, the mercury soared to 100 degrees or more whereas normal temperatures at that time ranged in the mid- to upper-80s.
As places like the Portland Airport reached 116 (June 28), growers began to think in terms of lower production, smaller sizes, and more sunburn damage.
While the full impact of the heat won’t be known until everything is in the barn and things like second shake harvest are over, the USDA Tree Nut Outlook is ominous. Almond and walnut production is forecast to decline while the previous season had set new records.
“The marketable quantity of all U.S. tree nuts, led by almonds, walnuts, and pistachios was estimated at 4.5 billion pounds on a shelled basis, up 24% from the previous season. Production may be reduced in the 2021/2022 season as a result of the alternate-bearing nature of tree nuts.”
While the 2020/21 almond production set new records (over 3 billion pounds valued at $5.6 billion) based on strong international demand, the large supply helped lower grower prices. California’s average yield was 2,490 pounds-per-acre, up some 320 pounds from the year previous.
USDA/NASS is forecasting a 2.8-billion-pound crop (shelled basis) for the 2021/22 season. While bearing acreage increased this year, because of record high temperatures and low water allocation, the crop, overall, did not develop as well as expected with nut set per tree reduced as a result.
While numbers tend to fluctuate, Meridian Growers Market Update called the almond market “stable, firm” with an uptick in demand for in-shell.
Walnut production down
As previously reported in Western Farm Press, walnut production is expected to decline from last year’s record haul of 785,000 tons. That volume drove U.S. walnut grower prices to their lowest in 13 years.
Pistachios hit a record high last year as production rose 41% to over a billion in-shell pounds (525 million pounds shelled). While this is supposed to be an “off” year, nearing harvest completion with the first loads of California nuts hitting processing plants by early September, yields were running at or above expectations based on favorable weather, more bearing acres, and new plantings. “A record-setting domestic crop will leave stocks at above-average levels, putting downward pressure on grower prices,” according to USDA reports.
At least one market report predicts, “although sizing is smaller this year especially the Kerman variety, we can safely assume the crop will be more than the 850 million pounds originally estimated.”
Pecan prices came in lower for domestic production last year and early-season freezing temperatures in Arizona and New Mexico orchards should result in lowered yields. Grower market researchers still prophecy “a firm market with strong demand across all sectors and no reason for the firming trend to change in the near future.”
Adding to pricing frustrations, Jim Zion at Meridian Growers warned about the worsening situation involving ocean cargo haulers. “Most experts are predicting the current adverse status will continue well into 2022,” he said, “with a lack of containers and a logjam, especially in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Add to that a shortage of truck drivers and warehouse workers and an already dire situation gets exacerbated even further.”