Total California almond acreage in 2014 surpassed one million for the first time ever at 1.02 million acres, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
Statewide almond holdings were 5 percent higher than the previous year’s figure of 970,000 acres. California almond acreage continues to climb in spite of a spike in orchard removals in 2014.
Also notable was the record-high price of $3.50 per pound paid to growers for their 2014 crop. That put gross production value at over $6.4 billion.
NASS estimates bearing acreage in 2014 was up 20,000 to 890,000, even after over 30,000 acres of almonds were apparently removed during the year.
This follows the two previous years where NASS reported 10,000 acres were removed each year.
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Non-bearing acreage numbers are not estimated for 2015 as the year is not over and NASS cannot predict yet how many more acres will be planted this year. Total non-bearing acres in 2014 were 150,000, the highest they’ve been since at least 1995, according to NASS.
Paul Ewing, sales and grower relations representative for RPAC, a Los Banos-based almond processor, says higher-than-normal culling of almond orchards illustrates just how bad water conditions are for growers in the state.
Ewing sees much of these removals coming from water districts that rely on the federal Central Valley Project for irrigation water or are otherwise in very poor groundwater basins. Conversely, growers in districts with relatively good well water are motivation by an ever-increasing grower price of almonds to plant.
Ewing said in the 24 hours after the report was issued that almond markets strengthened, likely on the news that a significant number of acres were removed and total production could be flat in 2015. The 2015 NASS subjective production forecast will be released May 5 at noon.
Almond growers produced 1.87 billion pounds of nuts in 2014. That was the fourth-highest harvest yield in the history of the California almond industry.
The record is 2.03 billion pounds harvested in 2011.
The report does show a steady increase in non-bearing acres from 2011 to the present, suggesting that planting activities continue to increase.
The report does not spell out how many acres of almonds were removed and replanted in other crops, such as pistachios or walnuts. It likewise does not spell out replacements back into almonds.
Since 2000, total almond acreage in California has nearly doubled from 610,000, according to the NASS figures.
According to Ewing, the NASS numbers may actually be low. He cited the Independence variety, which shows slightly more than 2,000 bearing acres and over 5,000 non-bearing acres.
“I know one guy alone who has over 2,000 acres of that variety,” Ewing said.
The NASS report comes from a voluntary survey of about 6,000 almond growers. Survey questions are mailed to growers and compared to pesticide application data maintained by county agricultural commissioners. Still, NASS does not expect to ever receive 100 percent participation in the survey.
“It’s still a good gauge for where we’re at, but we’re not going to take these numbers to the bank,” Ewing continued.
According to the report, the leading varieties grown in California are Nonpareil, Monterey, Butte, Carmel and Padre.
Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera were the leading counties by acreage, accounting for 73 percent of the state’s total bearing acres.
Funding for the survey is provided by the Almond Board of California.