As March and almond drew to a close, Frank Roque, general manager of Panoche Creek Packing, Fresno, Calif., described the almond market as stagnant.

“Buyers and sellers are trying to figure out how big the 2010 crop is likely to be,” he says.

Factoring together the cool spring weather, a short pollination period and limited bee hours, he’s not optimistic 2010 will give marketers a big crop.

“The size of the statewide Nonpareil crop, in particular, is suspect,” Roque says. “For whatever the reason, Nonpareils generally don’t look very good. In some fields, you may see Montereys or other varieties that looks very good, while Nonpareils in the same field will look considerably worse. Typically, you’ll see some differences in the appearance between Nonpareil and other varieties. But to see this large of a difference this early in the season indicates that Nonpareil yields could be significantly lower than other varieties this year.”

“We carried more than 400,000,000 pounds of almonds into the current marketing year, and we know for a fact that we won’t be carrying as many almonds into the 2010 crop,” Roque says.

At the same time, demand for California almonds as of March 31 had increased 18 percent from a year earlier. “The majority of the 2009 crop has been sold, with shipments since the beginning of last August totaling more than 1 billion pounds,” he adds.

The latest grower prices of California varieties are in the $1.90 to $2 range, Roque reports. That compares to the $2.10 price per pound paid to growers during the last week of January. It is up 80 cents per pound compared to last summer. This sharp increase reflects the size of last year’s crop, which was much smaller than in 2008. Demand is also stronger. Much of the growth has come from China.