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Increasing yields present challenge to almond growers

Almond Board of California TNFP0617-ABC-almond-yields.jpg
There is debate over whether California’s almond crop will top 3 billion pounds in 2021.
There is debate over whether this year’s crop will exceed 3 billion pounds.

The almond market has been displaying its yo-yo genetics of late.

First, according to Bill Morecraft, senior vice president at Blue Diamond: “Year-to-date shipments are running ahead of last year by 239 million pounds through seven months of the crop year.”  His Almond Market Update noted: “With large commitments on the books, shipments should remain strong in future months.”

Then came the Almond Board of California/USDA-NASS mid-May prediction of an increase in the almond crop. The USDA-NASS 2021 California Almond Subjective Forecast estimated the state’s almond orchards would produce 3.2 billion pounds this year, up 3 percent from last year’s 3.12 billion-pound crop.  Predictions were for 2,410 pounds-per-acre, a slight dip from the 2020 yield of 2,490 per acre figure.

This forecast came just three weeks after release of the USDA-NASS 2020 California Almond Acreage Report estimating total acreage in 2020 at 1.6 million acres, up 5.3 percent from the previous year — with bearing acres at 1.25 million or a 5.9 percent increase from the previous year.

“What we’re seeing here is a forecasted continuance of high yields,” predicted Almond Board of California President/CEO Richard Waycott. “We look forward to the outcome of the Objective Report on July 12 to see if it corroborates this estimate.”

While the Subjective Forecast provides initial 2021/2022 crop estimates based on a survey or randomly selected almond growers throughout the state, the Objective Report offers up an estimate based on actual almond counts using a more statistically rigorous methodology to determine yield.

It didn’t take long for dissenting opinions to start filtering in. Meridian Growers, publishers of their Market Update quickly reported: “The market experienced a big surprise as the Subjective Estimate came out to be 3.2 billion pounds, 300 million over what most predicted.

“As a result, the market immediately slipped. Large packers including Blue Diamond shared some thoughts and hidden factors against the estimate with a belief that the true estimate will not exceed 3 billion pounds. We have seen an uptick in pricing which shows us handlers are holding their ground and may not fully believe the Subjective.”

All of which coincided with the California Chapter of ASFMRA’s partnering with the Almond Board presentation of a webinar that focused on major aspects of the industry itself, including some experienced opinion.

‘A healthy picture’

ABC’s Waycott commented, “Ours is a healthy picture with a huge production growth cycle that continues.  Maybe we end up the harvest with 3.2 billion pounds.  Could be it will be closer to 2.8 billion or perhaps an even 3 billion pounds to go with our carryover volume.  Our projections showed a 3.2-billion-pound crop which we saw as happening five years out, but you never know. Whatever the final number, one of our constants is that we need to build demand ahead of supply.”

“Holy Toledo,” added Almond Board Chairman Kent Stenderup.  “Most people were not smiling when they heard that increased number as an additional 100,000 extra pounds will be a huge challenge to our 37% growth rate over the last two years.”

Stenderup also expressed concern over the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act implementation, cautioning that one of the impacts could be a fallowing of up to 750,000 acres and a movement of west valley growers to farmland on the eastern side of the valley with better water availability.

Fellow panelist Joel Kimmelshue, a soil and agricultural scientist and owner of LandIQ, agreed that fallowing was one way to help balance water supplies and added, “What happens next is unknown. This is the Wild, Wild West.”

TAGS: almonds
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