“Our focus has been nitrates,” Cameron said. He said almonds are “highly efficient” in nitrate usage, “and very little leaves the root zone.”

Firebaugh grower Chester Andrew said he and others have no desire to use more nitrogen than is needed. “Fertilizer is very expensive, and any way you can cut cost is good,” he said. “But I still want maximum production also. So we spoonfeed that along with calcium and potassium and micronutrients like zinc and iron.”

Both growers said they use micro or drip irrigation, which is growing increasingly common throughout the industry.

Andrew and others say this year was one of the best for pollination. The USDA said the bloom period was shorter than last year, but “excellent weather made up for the shorter overlap.”

The USDA and growers say the Nonpareil variety, which represents about 35 percent of California’s total production, is expected to off by about 7 percent.

Andrew said sales of almonds have been boosted by health claims. “It’s not just a snack nut,” he said. “It can be used to enhance flavor and because of its health qualities.”

Pat Ricchiuti, who heads P-R Farms in Clovis, said, “It seems like just yesterday that we passed the billion-pound mark.” In fact, it’s been 10 years since that mark was hit at a time when some in the industry questioned whether such high production could be sustained.

Ricchiuti is among those who gravitated to almonds in part because the harvest is mechanized, in sharp contrast to the labor demanded by tree fruit acreage that he left behind.