Fifth-generation Buttonwillow, Calif., grower Greg Wegis saw his season-long hope for an average to larger 2012 almond crop vanish this summer as early harvest tallies revealed a 20 percent to 25 percent shortfall in Nonpareil variety yields.

Wegis’ Nonpareil yields this fall ranged about from 2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds per acre, compared to last year’s record production of 3,500 pounds to 3,800 pounds per acres. About 50 percent of Wegis’ 2,100-acre almond operation is planted in Nonpareil.

“The lower Nonpareil yield caught us by surprise,” said Wegis, a partner in the family’s 7,800-acre farm, Wegis and Young, www.wegisandyoung.com.

The Nonpareil nut quality on the family ranch looks good.

In addition to almonds, the crops grown include pistachios, wheat, cherries, processing and fresh market tomatoes, bell peppers, plus corn, triticale, and milo for dairy silage.

“Typically when you have a smaller almond crop the nut size is typically larger. We’re not seeing that this year. Everyone is kind of baffled,” Wegis said from his pickup truck in early September as he managed harvest operations in the Wasco area.

The truck interior is Wegis’ communications center on wheels including a mounted laptop, tablet computer, and smart phone for instant hands-on access to farm data.

“This arrangement helps me be more efficient with my time,” Wegis said.

Why is the Wegis’ Nonpareil crop lower? He believes the culprits are back-to-back large crops over the last two years, combined with freezing temperatures this spring on the lower areas of the valley floor.

“I believe last year’s large crop took a lot out of the trees.”

The Wegis and Young operation harvested its first Nonpareils Aug. 13. Harvests of the California varieties are expected to wrap it up in mid October – weather permitting. Early harvests figures for the Padre, Butte, and Mission varieties suggest an average crop to a 10 percent reduction in yield.

Wegis hopes a smaller-than-projected California almond crop might bolster grower prices.

“Three dollars a pound would be great,” Wegis said.

The California Agricultural Statistics Service in late June predicted a record 2012 California almond crop at 2.1 billion meat pounds. With lower Nonpareil yield tallies across the southern San Joaquin Valley (SJV), the NASS figure may head south.

Wegis and Young grow almonds in the Buttonwillow, Wasco, and Shafter areas of Kern County. The county is the southern-most tip of California’s 760,000 bearing acre almond industry. Production stretches north into the far reaches of the Sacramento Valley.

Almonds are California’s top exported crop. California growers produce 99 percent of the nation’s commercial almond crop. California cash receipts from almonds totaled $2.84 billion in 2010. Kern County is the third-largest almond producer in the Golden State.