For the third year in a row, California almond growers are expected to produce more than 1 billion pounds of almonds and the industry needs every pound of that to meet continuing, growing demand.

The California Agricultural Statistics Service (CASS) released on May 10 a subjective forecast of 1.1 billion pounds, shelled basis, from 550,000 acres of bearing trees.

The 2004 estimate is up 6.6 percent from the 2003 crop of approximately 1.032 billion pounds to-date. The industry’s first was 1.090 pounds in 2002.

The Objective Measurement Survey will be released June 30.

Earlier this spring Blue Diamond Growers president Doug Youngdahl said a large California crop was "required" to meet growing demand.

A short Spanish crop, a continuing weak U.S. dollar and strong global demand for almonds and some concern about the size of the California crop after early spring bloom weather problems, all combined to send prices well above $2 per pound.

Prices were getting almost too high, prompting concerns that buyers may back away from almonds. That is why California almond handlers wanted a big crop . Adding to the good news are reports that the 2004 crop is progressing well, ahead of schedule in many places with no difficulties. According to Blue Diamond field men, shell development began in late April in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. It is not usually seen until mid-May. Kernel filling has been very rapid and is slightly ahead of normal.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com