What is in this article?:
- Over the past three decades, Steve Schafer and his brother, Mike, have combined individual skills, talents and interests to expand their Madera County, Calif., family farm into an enterprise that now encompasses 1,700 acres of almonds, 2,100 acres of wine and raisin grapes and 120 acres of pomegranates. That includes orchards and vineyards they manage for others.
Marketeing the crop
Some growers sell all of their crops this way. However, Mike prefers to market the rest of the crop on his own. In this case, he decides when and at what price to sell the almonds. Mike works with two different processors who keep him updated on the latest prices and buyers. When he finds a price he likes, Mike calls the processor who completes the sale.
“Over the long run, the yearly pools offer higher returns,” he says. “Usually, you won’t get the highest price that way but you probably won’t get the lowest price either. Selling almonds on my own has meant more headaches and I’ve sweated it out a lot at times. But, I like having the little bit of control over my own destiny that it gives me.”
He’s also learned to live with his selling decisions. Those decisions, of course, are complicated by ever-changing market conditions.
In early 2009, for example, prices for the 2008 almond crop were continuing to decline. Following bloom, it was apparent that the trees had set a fairly large new crop. So, rather than putting the rest of his 2008 almonds in cold storage and selling them later at a higher price should the market improve, he decided to selling them that spring for 70 cents a pound
“I didn’t see anything that would make the 2008 almonds more valuable,” Mike explains. “However, my advisors and I didn’t foresee the big jump in demand that occurred later in the year.”
As it turned out, prices toward the end of the year continued to rise even as growers harvested a bigger crop than they did the previous year.
So, in December 2009, Mike sold some of his new-crop almonds for $1.75 a pound. A month later the price had risen to $2. “I wish I could have had that extra 25 cents, but I made money at $1.75. When the market goes down, I don’t cry about it. I use the best information I can get at the time, make my decision and don’t look back.”
Despite concerns about the possible impact of the economic turmoil in Europe on the worldwide demand for almonds and uncertainty over long-term water supplies for California farmers, Mike remains optimistic about the prospects for the state’s almond growers.
In his case, for example, Mike estimates that as much 90 percent of the work in the Schafers’ orchards is done mechanically. That leaves them much less vulnerable to labor availability and liability issues than with their vineyards, Mike notes. Another plus is that, unlike grapes and other fruit and vegetable crops, almonds are non-perishable. That’s not all.
“The industry is doing a good job of marketing our crop,” he says. “We’re selling all that we’re producing and I’m making money. Right now, almonds are a good business to be in.”