The 2013 harvest season has been an early, compact and productive one for the Central California Almond Growers Association’s processing facilities located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.
Formed 50 years, the association is the largest huller-sheller cooperative in the word. Its 400 or so members grow almost 46,000 acres of almonds.
The four CCAGA hulling and shelling plants received their first loads of nuts this year on Aug. 12, about 10 days earlier than usual. By Oct. 9, grower members had all but finished delivering their annual inbound field run product for processing. Normally, these deliveries conclude about two weeks later. The last of the nuts are expected to be shelled by Thanksgiving, reports Michael Kelley, CCAGA president and CEO.
In the meantime, the four huller-sheller lines have been processing almonds at an average rate of 1,350,000 meat pounds every 24 hours.
“That’s more than a 15 percent increase over the average daily throughput in 2012,” Kelley reports. “In terms of total production for the season, we’re pushing up against the record 104.2 million meat pounds of almonds we processed in 2011.” Last year, the plant processed 101.4 million pounds.
The increase in processing efficiency reflects the small nut size of this year’s crop and modifications and improvements made to the shellers this year to handle more nuts in less time. “Small, dry almonds shell very quickly,’ Kelley adds. “A number of almond shellers have reported similar increases of efficiency in processing the almond crop this year.”
Hot weather in July, including several consecutive days of near-record high temperatures, however, took a toll on yields and quality of the 2013 almond crop, Kelley notes.
“The nuts have varied considerably in size,’ he says. “In fact, overall, this year’s crop is among the smallest I’ve seen in the eight years I’ve been with the association. Stick tights have been a real processing challenge. Some of the pollinator varieties were loaded with them.”
The hot weather also allowed for another generation or two of insects, such as navel orangeworm, to threaten the crop. This resulted in a lot more rejects due to insect damage, Kelley notes.
For a number of years, CCAGA has sold the leftovers from its processing activities to local dairies that have used the shells for bedding and the hulls in rations for their herds. This year, a new market has opened up for hulls among several local feedlots which have been feeding the hulls to their cattle.
“The price for hulls is at a respectable level this year compared to other components used in the dairy ration and selling into any new market is a way to free up storage space for us at the plant,” Kelley adds.