By Craig W. Anderson 

WHEN THE USDA releases its almond crop forecasts, this is always a very interesting time for almond farmers who grow the 2017 number three crop in San Joaquin County, valued at $362.7 million.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed in its California Almond Objective Measurement Report that the National Agriculture Statistics Service –Pacific Regional Office (NASS/PRO) estimates that the 2019 almond crop will be 2.20 billion meat pounds, down 3.5 percent from the 2018 crop production of 2.28 billionpounds.

USDA objective report

The USDA’s objective report –which is the industry’s official crop estimate –also estimated production to be down 12 percent from the May subjective forecast of 2.5 billion pounds. The objective report gathers data later inthe growing season, closer to harvest, the USDA’s report said. The objective report is based on an actual count of nuts on selected trees; the May forecastrelies on phone interviews with farmers.

The forecast is based on 1.17 million bearing acres and the forecast estimated production for the Nonpareil variety –which represents 40 percent of California’s total almond production –at 880 million meat pounds, down 1.3 percent from 2018’s deliveries.


Season’s just started

“We have the forecasts but the season’s so early we’re in the wait and see mode,” said Dave Phippen, almond grower and partner in Travaille & Phippen Inc., Ripon area almond processor and packer. “The crop’s very near what it was last year.”


Industry needs more information

He explained that at this early point at harvest, the industry is waiting to learn the extent of insect damage and other factors that can affect production. Phippen feels the “crop in our area –the Central Valley –will be reasonable. But, two-thirds of the crop comes from the south and we’ll need at least 10 percent of receipts from the south to get a handle on it. It’s all about what we’llhave from Fresno and Bakersfield but it’s a lot of guesswork at this point.”

He said the industryintended to market against the 2.5 billion pounds of May’s subjective forecast.


Weather challenges

The USDA reported that the 2019 crop “experienced unusual weather [with] significant rainfall during bloom hindering pollination. Strong winds were reportedto have damaged trees and knocked off some nuts. Instances of rain persisted through April and May, prompting concerns about disease pressure and warranting extra fungal applications.”


Weather delay

Other elements affecting the crop according to the report, included “cooler-than-average temperatures [that] have continued throughout the growing season with crop development about a week behind last year.”


Almond facts

The report also revealed the “average nut set per tree is 4,667, down 17.8 percent from 2018. The Nonpareil average nut set per tree is 4,429, down 10.1 percent from 2018’s set; the average kernel weight for all varieties sampled was 1.54 grams, unchanged from the 2018 average weight.”


King says California still King

“While the industry experienced less than ideal weather conditions this spring, California remains the best place in the world to grow almonds,” said Holly A. King, almond farmer and chair of the Almond Board of California’s Board of Directors. “As ... producers of 82 percent of the world’s almonds ... we feel a great sense of obligation to responsibly produce a healthy food accessible to people around the world.”


Many elements involved

“Almonds up north had pollination issues due to rain which affected the crop there,” explained Jake Samuel, SJFB second vice president, almond grower and custom harvester for walnuts and almonds. “Production may be down but acreage coming into production should put the totals somewhere between the subjective and objective forecasts. The season’s just started so it’s somewhat early to have a definitive view of the crop.”


Co-products for future

Samuel said almond co-products would have a positive effect on the industry despite a downward trend in per ton value but “the demand for almond ‘hash’ is up and we’re growing an upscale crop with less waste and more use of what we produce outside of just the almonds.”

Whole orchard recycling, using almond co-products as feed and the development of “hash” –the remnants of hull, shell and extra pieces of the almond –by research from the USDA’s Western Regional Research Center –which now includes entire trees –hold, said Samuel, the potential to generate extra dollars for almond growers which could help balance check books when production or prices wobble.


Our almond farmers part of great crusade

“California almond farmers produce the vast majority of the world’s almonds ... [and] with size comes great responsibility and the resources to continue to meet steadily growing demand for almonds,” said Richard Waycotte, ABC president and CEO. “Our vision is to make life better by what we grow and how we grow.”

Almond farmers are, as are all farmers, resourceful, confident and calmly confronting the challenges they face in agriculture.