Rain during harvest adds to grower costs, too. Normally, Turmon says, it takes about five days for almonds to dry on the orchard floor before they can be hauled out of the field and to the huller. This past October that was taking about two weeks. His crews had to re-roll the windrows to dry down the nuts more in the field. Shorter days and more dew in the morning only compounded the challenge of getting the nuts dried out.

Nuts with more than a 5 percent moisture content must be run through a dryer, at a cost to growers of about 5 to 7 cents a pound, before they can be processed, Turmon adds.

Wet weather at harvest also slows the hulling operation by requiring more time and effort to handle stockpiled nuts waiting to be hulled. “You have to cover and fumigate the nuts,” Turmon says. “Then, when the weather turns sunny, you open the tarps to let the nuts dry. At night you put the tarps back on to protect the nuts from any rain or dew.”

Even though the industry had, for all practical purposed, sold out of the 2010 crop before the 2011 harvest even began, Turmon and other growers were hoping for a lot of movement early in the current marketing year to sustain attractive prices for the large new crop. So far, these hopes are being met.

For example, the Almond Board of California reports that last November, both domestic and export shipments broke records for the third month in a row, with more than 200 million pounds of almonds shipped for October and November. Domestic shipments for November were up 18.2 percent and exports up 19.2 percent compared to November 2010.

In early December, the Almond Board of California released shipment figures for the first four months of the 2011 marketing year, which began this past Aug. 1. They reveal significant growth in demand from several countries in the Asia-Pacific market. For example, almond shipments to China were up 23 percent from a year earlier and those to India increased 25 percent. Meanwhile, Vietnam bought 510 percent more almonds than during the same time frame in 2010.

“Here in the United States we shipped 7.3 percent more almonds through the first four months of the 2011 marketing year than a year ago time, and we shipped 12.6 percent more overseas,” Turmon says. “Combined that represents a 11.1 percent growth in shipments for that time frame.”

The majority of the Friedenbach/Turmon Farms almonds are sold in-shell. Currently, those nuts are selling for about 12 to 15 cents a pound more than kernels. In fact, the Sierra Valley Hulling plant is designed to enhance nut value. “We equipped our hullers with electronic sorting features not only to produce great kernels with high turnouts but also high-quality in-shell product,” Turmon says.

China and India, the primary markets for California almonds, are also the two major buyers of in-shell almonds. “The Chinese like to add flavors to the shell to alter the taste of the nuts,” Turmon says. “In the case of India, because of tariffs, it’s cheaper for buyers there to import in-shell almonds than kernels.”

Through the first four months of the 2011 marketing year, 29 percent of California almonds shipped overseas were in-shell, the rest went for kernels. That compares to the same period a year earlier, when the mix of California’s exported almonds was 25 percent in-shell and 75 percent kernel.

“The Almond Board of California has done a great job of promoting almonds overseas,” Turmon says. “However, continued weakness in the world economy could pose some problems for selling our large crops in the future.”