One of the hottest California commodities over the past decade has been almonds. This marketing year almost 2 billion pounds will be delivered to handlers with excellent prospects to profitably market every pound.

However, Crowder expects almond planting to slow down primarily because wine grapes are looking better than they have in the past decade, and growers like those on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley are concerned about having enough water for new almond plantings on open ground.

“We are seeing older almonds coming out and the land replanted to wine grapes,” he said. Many of these plantings are by large winery conglomerates, but Crowder said wineries also are offering new vineyard contracts to growers.

Walnuts and pistachios are still hot, but he expects pistachio plantings to slow down due to the “huge amount of non-bearing acreage” now in the ground. “Yes, some people are still planting, but that has slowed down,” he added.

For the processing tomato industry, Crowder said canneries are “beating up each other” on pricing products to food manufacturers. In the meantime growers are demanding contracts to cover costs. “It is a stalemate as to what happens there in the future,” he said. California produces more than 90 percent of the processing tomatoes in the U.S. and planting is starting now.

Alfalfa acreage is up only a modest 3 percent to 4 percent this year in an overheated hay market that would suggest an acreage increase closer to 15 percent.

Crowder said “alfalfa guys were burned a few years ago” and are reluctant to jump into the hay market any deeper. “With a short water supply, it is not necessarily a good idea either to put in a lot more alfalfa,” he added.

Field crops are competing for a shrinking supply of open ground with the growing acreage of trees and vines. “Last year cotton won out over alfalfa on a lot of open ground because of strong prices. This year there will be less cotton because prices are lower. There is not much open ground left,” Crowder said.

For more than a decade, world population strategists have been predicting an impending world food shortage. It is here now, said Crowder.

“California and Arizona are in a good spot in the world food chain because we produce high value foods that people with higher incomes in the world want,” he said.

The future is not all rosy. Immigration issues like E-verify and the emerging water quality issues could have a negative impact on Western agriculture’s future.

Nevertheless, Crowder admits to being an optimist. “I think we will sort out some of these issues like water quality and move forward into a future of prosperity,” he said.

hcline@farmpress.com