Less than a decade ago, the prospect of a billion-pound California almond crop would have given the industry a collective heart attack. However, with shipments continuing to increase in double-digit numbers, Kindle said the industry needs every pound of back-to-back billion-pound crops to meet demand.

Before the June 26 California Agricultural Statistics Service’s objective one-billion-pound objective measurement came out, prices were up a solid 30 cents per pound over what growers received last year, an average of $1 per pound for the record one-billion-pound crop.

Prices dipped with the CASS estimate, which was 9 percent above the May subjective forecast. However, Kindle does not expect price to stay down. Demand remains strong.

In May the industry shipped 70 million pounds of almonds, almost 16 million pounds more than May 2002. With two months left in the marketing year, the industry has shipped almost 600 million pounds, 83 million pounds more than at the same time last year. There were only 271 million pounds remaining in inventory at the end of May.

“We are expecting June and July numbers to be close to what we did in May, which should leave us with a carry-in of only about 150 million pounds,” said Kindle.

“We need another billion pound crop to meet demand,” said Kindle.

The CASS forecast is based on 530,000 bearing acres.

Nonpareil down

While the crop is a big one, the Nonpareil variety is forecast at only 350 million pounds, down 20 percent from last season. Nonpareil represents 35 percent of California’s total almond crop and is the variety most in demand.

While there was rain and cool temperatures during bloom, CASS evaluators said the bloom weather was better than initially expected based on the crop size now. Sets of most almond varieties were generally good, but the Nonpareil bloom was very weak, spotty and uneven statewide.

The average nut set per tree is 7,002, down 14 percent from 2002. The Nonpareil average nut set is 6,110, a 24 percent decrease from last year’s set. However, the average kernel weight for all varieties sampled was 1.67 grams, up 18 percent from last year. Almost 98 percent of all nuts sized were sound, according to CASS.

“Nothing surprises me any more with almond crop estimates,” remarked Kindle. “However, what is making the billion-pound crop is all the young orchards.”

These younger, closer-spaced trees are capable of producing 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per acre compared to the 1,400 to 1,500 pounds from older trees.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com