The state’s almond harvest will hit a record 2.2 billion pounds this year, federal experts predicted Wednesday, despite storms and other challenges in the orchards.
Industry people said the volume is high enough to meet the rising demand at prices favorable to both growers and consumers. California accounts for about 80 percent of the world supply, and about a quarter of that comes from the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
“I am confident that we will be able to move a 2.2 billion-pound crop,” said Ron Fisher, president and CEO of Fisher Nut Co. in Modesto. “It’s such a versatile nut ... It has a long shelf life and is a healthy product.”
The National Agricultural Statistics Service made the projection after a phone survey of growers in late April and early May. A second estimate, based on measurements of actual nuts, will be released July 6.
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The harvest will start in August, sending raw product to processing plants that employ several thousand people in the Valley.
The industry has boomed in part because of research on how almonds can protect people from cancer, obesity, heart disease and other problems. Fisher also cited the increased number of middle-class consumers in China and India.
Prices paid to growers can slip below production costs, as they did in 2001, when the average was 91 cents per pound. They also can spike above $4, as they did in 2013 and 2014. Total income shot up in the short term, but at the risk of driving away buyers.
Prices have stabilized at about $3.10 for the favored Nonpariel variety and $2.25 for others, said Jim Jasper, president of Stewart & Jasper Orchards, a grower and processor near Newman.
It is one of several processors with their own snack nut brands. But most of the state’s volume goes to other food companies for use in cereal, candy, baked goods, ice cream and many other products.
The projection for a record harvest resulted in part from increased almond plantings. They reached about 1 million acres in 2017, doubled since 2000. The average yield per acre is estimated at 2,200 pounds this year, down from last year but still the sixth best on record.
The report said the abundant rain of 2017 did not intefere too much with the bees that pollinate the trees in February and March. The storms then eased off, allowing nuts to emerge from the flowers in solid numbers.
The five-year drought that just ended forced orchard removals by some growers, but not enough to slow the industry much. Almonds have proven to be a worthwhile use of what water was available.
The surveys are funded by the Almond Board of California, based in Modesto.
John Holland: 209-578-2385
California almond crop
2017: 2.20 billion*
2016: 2.14 billion
2015: 1.90 billion
2014: 1.87 billion
2013: 2.01 billion
2012: 1.89 billion
2011: 2.03 billion
2010: 1.64 billion
2009: 1.41 billion
2008: 1.63 billion
2007: 1.39 billion
2006: 1.12 billion
Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service