For the 410 members of the Central California Almond Growers Association (CCAGA), the 2016 crop harvest was almost completed by the first week of October.
The cooperative, the world’s largest huller and sheller of almonds, serves growers from Tulare County in the lower end of the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) to the north end at Merced County in the central SJV.
About 80 percent of the co-op members’ crop is hulled and shelled at the association’s processing plant near Kerman, Calif. The balance is processed at another site near Sanger, Calif.
Similar to last year’s earlier than usual start, the first loads of the 2016 harvest began arriving at the facilities the last week of July. Shipment numbers ramped up quickly. At the peak of daily deliveries (Aug. 12), the two plants received 207 truckloads of field run almonds in a 12-hour period.
“Since the nuts were so dry, all of the Nonpareil almonds were ready around the same time and the crop came on very rapidly in mid-August,” reported Mike Kelley, CCAGA’s president and chief executive officer.
“The pollinators started coming in as Nonpareil deliveries slowed. The rush lasted about two weeks and kept the action at the plants hot and heavy.”
The flood of almonds broke around Labor Day - ebbing and flowing at a more comfortable pace in the company’s stockpile yards and processing lines at the plants, he adds.
By the time the last largest loads crossed the scales on Oct. 15, the tally of field-run receipts totaled 432 million pounds. By then, the four hulling and shelling lines running 24/7 had processed about half of the crop.
By Thanksgiving, the output for those lines is expected to total 107 million pounds of almonds, plus about 100,000 tons of hulls and about 35,000 tons of shells.
This will be the largest crop ever processed by the association.
The stockpiles of shells will be ground into bedding for a local dairy while the hulls will be shipped out as a carbohydrate source for dairy cattle. This year, some hulls will be railed for the first time to a dairy in Texas.
All signs point to a larger and better California almond crop compared to last year, says Kelley. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service forecasts that California’s 900,000 acres of bearing almond trees will produce 2.05 billion meat pounds of nuts this year, a 7.9 percent jump from last year.
“It appears that actual production will be similar to this amount and maybe slightly higher for the state overall,” Kelley says. “Also, the nut size appears larger than last year when there were a lot of ‘peewees.’”
The USDA predicts average kernel weight this year at 1.48 grams or 3.5 percent larger than last year.
The quality of this year’s was impacted to some extent by higher reject levels due to damage caused by the Navel orangeworm and other insect pests, Kelley notes. He attributes much of this to a late season Navel orangeworm flight, and off timing of insecticide applications to control the threat.
For about the first week and a half of the harvest, Kelley says the dry nuts created more flaking and chipping during shelling. As the harvest progressed the nut quality improved.
“Overall, we had a very good quality crop this year,” Kelley says.
Meanwhile, the CCAGA is gearing up to handle more acres planted by its members planted over the last several years.
“Currently, we have excess shelling capacity,” Kelley says. “However, within the next three years, our volume is expected to increase about 25 percent. This may require adding another huller-sheller line, or making modifications within our existing plants.”