The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed what California almond producers projected two months ago: the industry's much-anticipated three-billion-pound crop is here. Whether that news pumps the brakes on a price slump that began as receipts continued well past last year's 2.2-billion-pound crop forecast remains to be seen.
The forecast puts this year's crop about 18 percent higher than last year's receipts, which will continue to be tallied through July 31. At the end of May that figure was 2.54 billion pounds. July marks the end of the marketing year for the California almond industry. The new marketing year begins Aug. 1. The 2020 marketing season forecast is based on 1.26 million bearing acres.
Industry leaders have said since the pollination period ended that this year's crop could be higher than ever given the near-perfect weather during bloom and comparisons to the last several seasons that saw rain and frost during pollination destroy developing nuts.
Moreover, industry insiders were concerned coming into this season's objective estimate because of the considerable difference between last year's measurement report and actual receipts. That difference of about 350 million pounds sparked a crash in prices to unprofitable levels for many growers.
This led to a reported change in sampling protocols that the USDA says gives surveyors an 80 percent confidence level that the crop will be between 2.72 billion pounds and 3.28 billion pounds. According to the USDA report on the almond measurement, sampling protocols include the following: "To determine tree set, nuts are counted along a path within a randomly selected tree.
"Work begins at the trunk and progresses to the end of the terminal branch. Using a random number table, one branch is selected at each forking to continue the path. A branch's probability of selection is directly proportional to its cross-sectional area. This methodology is used because of its statistical efficiency. The method also makes it possible to end up at any one of the tree's numerous terminal branches."
According to the survey, nut counts are heaviest in the Sacramento Valley at over 7,300 nuts per tree, based on 115 sampled orchards. The central region of Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties had just over 6,500 nuts per tree with a relatively small 4,600 nuts per tree on 482 orchards sampled in those counties south of and including Madera County.
Donny Hicks, a field representative with Olam's Hughson Nut facility said that wide spread between north and south is not only counter to what is typical – almonds tend to produce more in the southern San Joaquin Valley counties from Madera County, south – but is likely indicative of last year's heavy crop in the south and lighter crop in the north.
"Last year the south carried the state," Hicks said, noting that production in the northern San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys were viewed as "off" somewhat.
Because the subjective estimate and objective measurement reports came in identical, Hicks thinks this could help at least slow the price slide.
"We've already started to see prices firm up," he said. He suspects this firming of the almond price may continue as markets appeared to be more concerned with the subjective forecast.