Coleman has a good water supply, but he is very concerned about California’s overall water picture where farmers are losing trees due to water shortages, especially on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Issues like cutting off water supplies to protect fish are driving West Side growers into the East Side of the Valley where they are buying vineyards, noted Coleman.

“One big West Side grower bought 220 acres of grapes not far from me last year — did not even harvest the grape crop before pulling out the vines and planting almonds,” he said.

Prominent Westlands Water District producer John Diener of Five Points, Calif., predicts there will be no almonds in Westlands in 10 years due to water uncertainty.

“I bet it will be less than that. I would not be surprised if it was not five years. It is going to hurt the almond industry because of lost production. Those guys on the West Side can pump out 3,500 to 4,000 pounds per acre. It is prime farm ground.”

“I bust my butt to get 2,500 pounds per acre. It takes two acres in this area to get what they can on the West Side. It’s tragic and it will hurt the supply of almonds in the long run,” he said.

“The federal government is so deceitful. The feds say the farmers are to get a 25 percent water allocation and then they cut it back 10 percent to protect the fish. How is someone expected to invest in farming with that kind uncertainty,” he says.

Kelley expects the 2010 crop will begin arriving at his huller/sheller about Aug. 15.

Coleman is more confident now that he will deliver a good crop to his huller/sheller since the crop set. Frost and hail are his primary concerns the rest of the way.

“Overall, I am pleased with what we have this year. What we may not have in terms of total nuts we will make up for in tonnage with size. This crop will produce premium almonds.”

Kelley added that hull prices have firmed up in recent weeks after a downturn due to poor economic conditions in the dairy industry. They bottomed out at about $92 per ton. They have inched back up to the $110 per ton range. That is also improving the economic outlook for his members.

“We are looking forward to a good year for our 462 members. Almonds are doing well for farmers. The board just voted to do some improvements on our older Sanger plant east of Fresno. We are seeing grapes continue to come out in that area and be replaced with almonds because almonds have been pretty consistent economically over the years,” Kelley said.

Five years ago the association opened a new state-of-the-art $9.5 million huller/sheller in Kerman to serve producers west of Fresno.

hcline@farmpress.com