USDA’s forecast for a second straight year of a record California almond crop may come short, according to Dan Cummings, who grows 6,000 acres of almonds in the Sacramento Valley. He thinks the projected 2.1 billion meat pounds of almonds for 2012 is too high.
Cummings is CEO of Capay Farms, Inc., Chico, Calif. His crews began shaking trees in Colusa County on Aug. 13 and in Glenn County a week later, and found Nonpareil yields lacking.
“I don’t know if this year’s crop will be bigger than last year,” he says. “It may end up just about the same size.” The 2011 crop totaled 2.03 billion pounds.
Nonpareil field-run yields have ranged from about 5 percent higher than last season to as much as 30 percent lower than 2011. This variation reflects differences in productivity between younger and mature orchards, Cummings notes.
(For more, see: Nonpareil almond yield over 20 percent lower for Kern County grower)
He’s seeing more damage from navel orangeworm than he’s experienced in the last four or five years. Cummings attributes that to timing of the flights this season and a greater number of overwintering mummies left on the trees from last year’s harvest.
“The worm levels weren’t horrible, but they were higher than we’re accustomed to seeing,” Cummings says. “I’ve heard of similar increases in navel orangeworm damage as well as declines in Nonpareil yields elsewhere in the state.”
However, field-run yields of his Sonoras were exceeding last year’s figures by 8 percent to 50 percent, he reports. Such increases are no surprise, considering the light Sonoma crop he harvested last year. Cummings is expecting solid production this year from his remaining varieties.
“The harvest is moving along smoothly and we’re covering a lot of ground,” he says. “The nuts are coming off cleanly with light to moderate shaking and the pollenizers are following right on the heels of the Nonpareil. So there’s no lull in activity between the two types this year, as is often the case.”
Based on its 2012 California Almond Objective Measurement Report, issued June 29, the USDA/NASS forecast is for a Nonpareil crop of 730-million meat pounds. That would be 7 percent less than in 2011. Nonpareils represent 35 percent of California’s total almond production.
However, Cummings is finding field-run yields of his Nonpareil, overall, are down about 15 percent from last year. His meat yields have slipped, too.
“So if the Nonpareil field tonnage for the industry, as a whole, is off 15 percent and meat yields are 10 percent lower, this year’s Nonpareil crop would be 183 million pounds less than in 2011,” he says. “That’s clearly bullish for almond prices. I don’t know if the pollenizers will be able to make up the difference needed for a 2.1 billion-pound crop.”
So far, new crop almond prices are tracking close to the closing prices of the old crop. Prices for the 2011 almonds continued to rise throughout the season, he notes.
In early September, the Nonpareil price to farmers was around $2.20 to $2.25 per pound. That’s about 30 cents higher than early in the 2011 harvest. Currently, Carmels are selling for about 35 cents-per-pound more than a year ago at around $2 per pound. At the same time, prices of the California varieties are in the neighborhood of $1.90 per pound,35 cents above last season’s opening level.
The increasing strength of almond prices is the result of continuing strong demand, Cummings says.
“The industry enjoyed tremendous shipments last year – 14 percent more than for the 2010 crop,” he says. “We shipped 1.9 billion meat pounds of almonds in the marketing year just ended. That’s a staggering amount. There’s been a tremendous change in the almond market in the last three years. It’s been nothing short of phenomenal.”