The limbs on Gary Coleman’s six-year-old Nonpareil almond trees were already sagging in late April under the surprising weight of their 2010 crop. He is also wondering if double tying his Carmels’ scaffolding would be enough to keep them from breaking under the weight of the rapidly maturing nuts.
Those are the telltale – and welcome – signs that there is a sizeable crop in Coleman’s orchards. They are particularly pleasing developments for the Kerman, Calif., producer because this past spring was one of the wettest and coldest for California almond growers in recent years. A nasty February, March and April like California almond growers experienced this year normally means more fungicide sprays.
“I sprayed only twice; once by ground with Tilt and later with Rovral by air ... because I was watering when one of the storms was moving in,” he said. He does not cultivate the middles, and did not want to rut the orchard running a spray rig on wet ground. “I have gravelly soil and when I cultivate it, it brings up rocks. My huller does not like rocks,” he laughs while visiting with Mike Kelley, president of his huller/sheller, Central California Almond Growers Association.
Two fungicide treatments are normal for the almond producer who also farms 60 acres of Thompson seedless grapes just west of Fresno. “The most I have ever sprayed is three times, so twice is about normal.” He treats for shot hole without fail. “I have seen orchards that were not treated and they have almonds all over the ground in April.”
The cold, wet spring was a double-edged sword. It may have precluded giving the industry what it wanted; a record crop to meet record demand. However, the uncertainty over the crop due to the poor weather bolstered crop prices. Nonpareil almonds are already quoted at more than $3 per pound. California varieties are about $2.20 per pound.
“California varieties were 70 cents a pound not too long ago,” he added.
Doug Youngdahl, president of Blue Diamond Growers, said the El Niño weather “overshadowed the 2010 bloom and dampened hopes for another record crop to feed the rapidly growing global market for almonds.” Crop uncertainty from the less than ideal bloom and subsequent supplies forced prices up.
“Given the current 2010 crop outlook, higher prices will become the mechanism for allocating available supply. How high levels will rise will be dependent upon the developing 2010 crop.”
The dynamics of the 2010 market will become clearer with the NASS subjective crop estimate on May 6.