It's definitely a year of abundance for most Western crops. Some are forecast to experience double-digit production increases over last season, which was not an off year by any means. Favorable growing conditions are the biggest factor in the yield increases.
The increase is too much for the market to bear for some, like grapes. For others, like almonds and pistachios, increasing demand is absorbing record crops.
About half of this year's forecast 980-million-pound California almond crop has been delivered to handlers. This represents an 18 percent increase over last season. As this record crop reaches handlers, domestic shipments have increased by almost 22 percent from a year ago and export commitments are up almost 6 percent.
On the down side, grape production is forecast to be up 12 percent from last season. A forecast tonnage of 6.67 million tons is proving too much for the marketplace, especially in the central San Joaquin Valley where some raisin and wine grape vineyards are going unharvested this year with prices well below the cost of harvesting. In some cases, no one wants the wine grapes.
Forty percent of this year's tonnage is for raisin grapes, primarily Thompson seedless, used mostly for raisins, concentrate or generic wine. Raisin grape variety tonnage is up 23 percent this season, sending the industry into an economic nosedive.
The raisin industry is hashing out the details of a surplus raisin giveaway where growers agree not to produce raisins next season in return for the value of those surplus raisins. Industry leaders are also trying to figure out how to get growers to bulldoze vineyards and not replant them for several years, also in exchange for surplus raisins.
California orange producers are looking for a big crop while Arizona's orange growers are looking at a smaller crop.
This year's orange crop, beginning soon with early Navels, is forecast to be 126 million cartons, up 13 percent from last year. Navels are projected to produce 80 million cartons, up 18 percent. California Valencias are forecast to produce 46.0 million tons, up 5 percent from last year.
California oranges appear to be sizing normally this season and are not expected to be as large as those picked last season.
The lemon forecast is for 42 million cartons, up 11 percent; tangerines 4.6 million boxes, up 5 percent.
Across the Colorado River, Arizona's lemon crop is expected to produce 2.8 million boxes, the same as last season. Orange production there is expected to drop 14 percent from last season to 450,000 boxes.
California's grapefruit crop is forecast to be up 2 percent to 12.4 million boxes.
Alfalfa tonnage up 13 percent
In field crops, California alfalfa producers are forecast to end the year with 8.24 million tons, up 13 percent over last year. The rice crop is forecast at 43.2 million cwt., up more than 10 percent over 2001. Yield is projected at 8,300 pounds per acre from a little more than 500,000 acres.
Cotton producers in California and Arizona are having a good year as well with minimal input costs.
California upland yields are projected to reach almost 1,450 pounds per acre, about 100 pounds more than last season. Arizona upland producers are looking at about the same yield increase to 1,241 pounds per acre.
Arizona is projected to produce 600,000 bales of cotton while California growers should bale 1.6 millions. That is about 300,000 bales less than last year because of sharply reduced 2002 acreage. Acreage is expected to rebound next season on the heels of a new farm bill and good yields this season.
However, a strong durum wheat market right now may cut into solid cotton acreage increases predicted earlier in the season. Arizona acreage may actually decline in 2003 due to a $9 per cwt wheat market. California should increase cotton acreage in 2003.
Pima cotton in California is projected to yield 570,000 bales this season, a decrease of 11 percent from last year, but 2 percent more than the Sept. 1 estimate. Pima average yields are expected to reach a little more than 1,300 pounds, a few pounds more than last season.
Pistachios biggest gainer
The biggest overall crop increase is coming from alternate bearing pistachios, which in California are forecast to produce 280 million pounds, a 74 percent increase from last season. The yield is expected to be almost 3,400 pounds per acre. However, prices are good to producers with increasing consumer demand. Handlers report the marketing pipeline empty, and a market eager for new crop pistachios.