At the company’s recent annual meeting for growers, Kindle noted that the 2002 almond crop was replete with records:

--The largest crop in history (almost 1.2 billion pounds, 12 percent more than 2001).

--Record shipments projected to reach 952 million pounds, an increase of 16 percent the previous year. Shipments broke records monthly.

--Record average yield of 2,000 pounds per acre statewide with average gross returns of $2,300 to $2,500 per acre.

"The record is almost unbelievable and could not have happened better if we had provided a written script," said Hinkle, who predicted 2003 stands to be just as good, if not better.

Hinkle says the consensus estimate for the 2003 crop is 875-900 million pounds, which would be the second largest crop ever. The first official subjective crop estimate will be out May 9 followed by the objective estimate June 29.

This all means that, according to Kindle, growers can conservatively expect returns of at least 10 to 20 cents per pound over the record-setting 2002 year.

Gold Hills Nut Co. processed about 25 million pounds of 2002 almonds and expects to handle about the same for this year.

"The market for both the 2002 and 2003 crop has remained firm" even with back-to-back crops, said Kindle because almond consumption worldwide has continue to climb at remarkable rates.

More than 70 percent of the state’s almond production is exported. One larger importer, Spain, is also a competitor. It receives more than 14 percent of total exports.

Spain buying more

"Spain has a larger manufacturing capacity for blanching, slicing, etc, and it further processes California almonds and ships them on through most of Europe," said Kindle. Spain may take more California almonds this year because its crop will be off.

Kindle said Spain produces about 65 million pounds annually, but this year two frosts could reduce that to 30 million to 40 million pounds, said Kindle.

Germany is the second largest importer with more than 13 percent total exports. Japan and India take about 9 percent each and China is at 5 percent, but it is the fastest growing California almond market.

Two factors have propelled this growth. One, said Kindle, is the efforts of the California Almond Board, the industry’s grower funded marketing commission.

Growers pay an assessment of 2.5 cents per pound and Kindle said the investment has paid off handsomely.

Last spring, Kindle said there were "swelling discussion" about reducing the assessment. "This discussion has taken a back burner. No other industry — agriculture or non-ag related — could talk the story and show the results the almond industry has produced this last year," said Kindle, who encouraged producer to remain vigilant in their marketing efforts.

He said continued study and verification of the health benefits of almonds as well as promotion and market development efforts need to continue.

Dollar value

Also contributing to the upward trend in almond shipments and grower returns was the decreased value of the American dollar compared to international currency.

Last year at this time the Euro-dollar had a value of $1.13 compared to one U.S. dollar. California almond growers export about 53 percent of their production to Western Europe. Today it takes $.92 Euro to the U.S. dollar, Kindle noted.

"The U.S. dollar is not 21 percent weaker than the Euro. This means if they pay 21 percent more for our almonds today than last year, they are paying the same amount in their currency as last year," noted Kindle.

The U.S dollar is 12 percent less in value compared to the Japanese yen.

A upward swing in the U.S. stock market can reverse those value ratios.

However, for now the shine is still on California almonds, offering growers the prospect for another successful year. This year’s harvest will begin in August in the Southern San Joaquin Valley.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com