California almond growers and processors raised their eyebrows after seeing the July 8 USDA/NASS crop estimate of 1.65 billion pounds.

“When you can drive down the road at 60 miles per hour and pick out the Nonpareil rows because the crop is so very light, it’s hard to agree with the estimates,” says veteran almond processor and export broker Rick Kindle, Kindle and Associates, LLC, Turlock, Calif.

“At the same time, it’s difficult to disagree with the NASS’ reports, which tend to be very, very accurate. But, the amount of bearing acres in this report makes it more believable to me.”

Based on 740,000 bearing acres, the objective measurement report predicts the state’s almond orchards will produce 1.65 million meat pounds this year — up 8 percent from the agency’s May 6 subjective forecast and 17 percent above last year's crop.

Production for the Nonpareil variety, which represents 39 percent of all almonds produced in California, is forecast to total 640 million meat pounds — 18 percent above last year’s deliveries.

In view of the unusually cool, wet weather earlier this season, most growers were expecting lower numbers. That’s especially true for central state growers, who experienced more rainfall than others.

Nevertheless, the report says, “Despite a variable spring, weather in 2010 had few negative effects on the coming almond crop,” and it offered figures to support that statement.

Compared to last year, for example, average nut set per tree was up 7 percent, and for Nonpareil, 9 percent. Further, overall damage from high winds was insignificant, extra sprays held in check any increased fungal infections and rot due to wet weather, and the cool weather kept insect pressures low.

Still, some growers can’t reconcile what they see in the orchards with that the government is reporting.

This latest production forecast, Kindle says, would result in a total available 2010 almond crop supply of 1.955 billion pounds. That reflects a carry-in inventory from the 2009 crop on Aug. 1 of about 335 million pounds and 1.60 billion pounds saleable from the 2010 crop. This will result in a total supply of 180 to 200 million pounds more than last year’s supply.

“That should enable the market to grow by 10 percent over the 2009 crop, or result in total shipments of 1.585 billion pounds if the world’s economy and buyers are healthy enough to handle the increased volume” Kindle says.

Figuring total shipments of this year’s crop at 1.441 billion pounds, he expects about a 400-million pound carryout of 2010 almonds. That would be identical to the carry-in of last year’s crop to this marketing year.

A day after release of the July 8 objective crop measurement, almond prices dropped more than 10 percent compared to two days earlier. On July 7, standard sheller run almonds were trading at the $1.60-per-pound level. On July 9, offers to sell this same grade of almonds elicited no buyers, Kindle reports.

This comes after a continuing decline in almond prices following a big runup early this year. At the same time, he adds, almond shipments for the first four months of 2010 were very strong, based on contracts for these shipments signed earlier in the marketing year at lower prices.

However, since the release of the May subjective almond crop estimate, both prices and shipments of almonds have tumbled, Kindle notes. Shipments for May and June each were off about 48 million pounds from the same months in 2009. On the positive side, overall shipments to date remain 7 percent above the previous year. Meanwhile, Nonpareil supreme prices have fallen by about 20 percent and prices of manufacturing grade almonds have declined even more.

“It’s too early to predict where prices are headed from here,” Kindle says. “But, there will be some adjustments taking place.”

The complete 2010 California Almond Objective Measurement Report is available at www.nass.usda.gov/ca/