Shipments of California almonds during August swelled to more than 58 million pounds, or 28 percent more than a year ago, while continuing a six-month string of records, according to the Almond Board of California.

Exports claimed nearly 38.3 million pounds, 46 percent greater than in August of 1999, with gains in destinations of Asia, India, Western Europe, and the Middle East.

Shipments to major Asian points, including China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand gained at the greatest rate, 117 percent, bringing August movement to nearly 8.6 million pounds.

Western European markets too 24.8 million pounds, for a 24 percent increase. Middle East shipments rose 90 percent.

Exports during the last year account for 503 million pounds or 71 percent of the total, and domestic shipments made up the balance of 209.6 million pounds.

Top value export The sales tallies came as California brings in a crop estimated at 640 million pounds. Value of the 1999 crop was $696.8 million, making almonds the state's highest value horticultural export.

Roger Wasson, chief executive officer of the federal marketing order based in Modesto, said recently that shipments over the past year came to 713 million pounds, more than 100 million pounds more than the previous marketing season.

The spike in sales, Wasson said, can be attributed to several reasons. "First, our handlers have worked hard to sell product in all our markets. On the domestic front, the past year has seen more consumers turning to almonds for snacking, a trend the industry will continue to promote, plus new cereal and chocolate product line extensions, resulting in a 25 percent increase in shipments."

Further, the industry has bolstered its nutritional message to consumers as research continues to reveal health advantages in eating the nuts. The USDA school lunch program was a new market for almonds, claiming 8.35 million pounds.

Shipments to China, prominent in the exports, rose from 8.2 million pounds in the 1998-99 marketing year to 25.3 million pounds for 1999-00.

The gains were seen even though Chinese consumers presently pay a 30 percent tariff on California almonds. "Imagine how this market will take off as tariff rates fall to more reasonable levels as a result of China entering the World Trade Organization," said Wasson.