“There could be a real shortage of shelling capacity,” he said, pointing out that new shellers have major price tags because of stringent air pollution and food safety regulations. The cost to add one at the Kerman plant could amount to $12.5 million, he said.

Kelley said it is likely that sprinklers would be required in a new sheller. If those sprinklers were to trigger, he said, the damage to almonds and equipment could be extensive and could result in a shutdown lasting days.

Kelley is otherwise bullish on almonds as the cooperative that operates the plant approaches its 50th year with 395 grower members. He’s seeking to tweak the plant for greater efficiencies in moving nuts through it and has added covered storage room outside in the past year.

“With the large crop we had last year, the plant took quite a beating,” he said. “So there’s a lot of maintenance to be done.”

Kelley said cooler temperatures in late June are helping the nuts to size and also giving a boost to the hulls that encase them, a byproduct that that the association sells as feed to dairy operators.

Dairies use the hulls to provide carbohydrates to cows, and their costs have been driven up by rising costs in other feeds. Kelley said challenges to the global economy have some dairy operators struggling to pay costs for the feed.

The association has doubled its shelling capacity to 104 million pounds in seven years, and Kelley said – “in a really long season” – it could handle as much as 120 million pounds.

“Beyond that, we would have to build a new sheller,” he said.

For a time, the association was the largest sheller and huller of almonds in the world. But Kelley said he believes it was surpassed last year by Paramount Farms.

Demand for nuts to India and China are helping drive demand, Kelley said. But because those countries prefer nuts that are in their shells, the product takes up more space.

To reach a 3-billion pound crop, Kelley said, another 200,000 acres would be needed. The current bearing acreage is at 780,000.

In the field, growers like Cameron are preparing that acreage for a harvest that is expected to be earlier this year, possibly in the first or second week of August.

That means readying the ground for a time when the almonds will be shaken off the trees, removing weeds mechanically and with herbicides, treating for ants if necessary and smoothing the soil where the nuts will land.

“Next week we will be putting on hull split spray to protect against navel orangeworm,” Cameron said.

Panoche’s Roque has also been advising growers on spraying for mites as well hull split sprays. He expects the hull split to start around July 4.

Periodically, growers sample leaves from trees to determine nutrient needs. While that has been going on for years, it has gained new importance because of concerns about nitrates on farmland seeping into underground water.

Cameron is a member of the Canella Scientific Environmental Farming Committee that advises California Agricultural Secretary Karen Ross.