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Good news, bad news amid almond harvest

Tim Hearden TNFP1105-tim-hearden-almond-harvest.JPG
Almonds are harvested in the Sacramento Valley. Heat, humidity and smoke stressed some almond trees in 2020, industry insiders say.
Heat, humidity and smoke caused some tree stress, industry insiders say.

Back in the late 1970s, two Alabama musicians put together an album titled “Smoke From a Distant Fire.” That title song could well have been the theme of California growers of all kinds this year as a paucity of rain and a plethora of tinder-dry kindling proved to be a deadly combination.

The tree nut industry wasn’t immune to the changes of climate that produced flames and smoke. While almond growers were mindful of the California Almond Objective Measurement Report estimating the 2020 crop to come in at 3 billion pounds, a jump of 18% from the 2019 crop, there were some unexpected variables that impacted that optimism.

In closing out its September report, Blue Diamond Growers cited “hot, humid conditions and heavy smoke dominating the Central Valley.”

Report writer Mel Machado noted: “With nonpareil plantings harvested, growers have been moving into pollinizer varieties as fast as conditions allow. Many sent shakers immediately back into the orchards after picking nonpareil without pausing to irrigate.

“As a result, many orchards reported excessive stress levels. For those who completed harvest, irrigation became the most immediate activity.”

The elevated humidity levels also had a negative impact on hulling and shelling. Traditionally, huller/sheller managers look for the hulls to “snap” for easy removal and separation. Instead, the increased humidity made hulls more pliable and harder to separate from the shell, adversely impacting flow rates and increasing crops diverted to stockpile.

“Many huller/sheller operations were encouraging growers to stockpile at their farms,” wrote Machado.

Unanticipated problems notwithstanding, the USDA/NASS Objective report from July still expects average nut set per tree will be 5,645, which would be a 21% increase over last year’s yield. Nonpareil average nut set is anticipated at 5,621, which would be a 27% hike over 2019.

California provides about 80 percent of the world’s almond supply and represents in excess of a $6 billion economic boon to growers, according to USDA/NASS, whose report indicated nearly a third of the state’s volume was produced in San Joaquin, Merced, and Stanislaus counties.

GOOD WEATHER CONDITIONS

Prior to the latest series of calamities, the chair of the Almond Board of California Directors, Holly King, herself an almond grower in Kern County, cited good weather conditions and a healthy environment for pollinators that “resulted in the abundant crop we’re seeing on trees up and down the Central Valley.”

Blue Diamond, in its October Market Update, focused on the “large” theme, as in large numbers with most reflecting historic highs.

“September receipts reached 780 million pounds — 140 million above recent year September shipments,” wrote Senior Vice President Bill Morecraft. “The crop continues to appear to be very close to the 3 billion pounds projected by NASS with the increase heavily driven by yield increases in the mid and north state. The early read is smaller numbers for Nonpareil with some varieties, like Independence and Monterey, being much closer to normal.”

Shipments (nearly 261 million pounds) eclipsed previous September records by nearly 60 million pounds and yearly shipment numbers are now 32% above last year at this time. “Since June, we’ve seen four consecutive months of increased shipments,” wrote Morecraft.

In the writer’s opinion: “Although prices have come off their peaks of a few weeks ago, dropping by some $.70 per pound, industry commitments are at strong levels and shipments will likely continue at a record pace, keeping handlers operating either at or near capacity well into November.”

Blue Diamond honcho Mark Jansen noted: “With another record crop, innovation will be the key to success in the coming year, innovation in almond products and ingredients for new categories.”

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