USDA predicts record California almond crop

The Modesto BeeJuly 1, 2014 

California's top five exported products were almonds (shown being harvested near Easton), dairy products, wine, walnuts and rice.

FRESNO BEE FILE

California almond growers will harvest a record 2.1 billion pounds this year, a federal agency projected Monday, further evidence that water is finding its way to this profitable crop.

The estimate from the National Agricultural Statistics Service is up 5% from last year's crop and 8% from the initial 2014 forecast on May 1. Should the figure hold up as the harvest plays out, it would top the record of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011.

And the nuts will have no trouble finding buyers around the world, said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers. The Sacramento-based cooperative, which has processing plants in Salida and Turlock, has helped promote almonds as a healthy food.

"I believe we can handle it very easily," Baker said. "We're seeing about a 5 1/2% increase in overall consumption."

California supplies about 80% of the world's almonds.

The state's severe drought has prompted some growers to rip out orchards or curtail production this year, but Monday's report suggests that the industry overall is holding strong.

Growers have replaced some of the reduced river water supplies with increased well pumping, raising concern in some places about overdraft. They also might fallow annual crops to get more water to the trees, purchase water from other growers, and conserve the supplies with soil-moisture monitoring and other techniques.

Almond prices have been strong for growers, about $3 per pound.

The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced the figure at the Modesto headquarters of the Almond Board of California. It was based on counts and measurements in a sampling of orchards up and down the Central Valley.

The initial estimate, from a telephone survey of growers in April, was for 1.95 billion pounds.

The large crop results in part from a rise in almond acreage -- about 860,000 acres this year, compared with 840,000 last year and 570,000 a decade ago. This year's average yield per acre is projected at 2,440 pounds, second only to the 2,540 in 2011. The number of trees per acre also has risen.

Monday's report said the winter was warmer than usual for the trees, which prefer chilly weather before the bloom, and rain was scarce for most of winter and spring. Pests and diseases are less of a problem than last year, the agency said.

Baker said hot weather such as this week's could stress the orchards and brings a lower-than-projected crop.

Steady almond supplies would help the industry meet the growing demand, most of it from food companies that use the nuts in cereal, candy, baked goods and other items.

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The reporter can be reached at (209) 578-2385 or jholland@modbee.com.

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