March almond shipments will be telling

California’s 2009 almond crop is likely to be smaller than 2008, predicts Frank Roque, general manager of Panoche Creek Packing, Fresno, Calif.

The 27-year-old company, one of the state’s largest independent handlers, purchases almonds from growers throughout California.

One of the contributing factors to this decrease in production could be that the trees are resting after three consecutive record crops. Production of Nonpareil, the state’s largest variety in terms of acreage, could show the largest percentage decrease because it tends to alternate bear.

And, of course, there’s the weather.

“The March frost hit some areas very hard,” Roque says. “Observers report that certain almond orchards look good, while in some, the crop has been wiped out, and in others it is only a fraction of what it was last year. At this point, it appears the 2009 crop will not be as big as 2008.”

The anticipated large carryover of 450 million to 500 million pounds, from the 2008 crop’s 1.6 billion pound production, has contributed to the lowest prices for almonds in nearly a decade.

However, Roque points out, lower prices tend to kindle a rise in consumption. That, in fact, may be happening.

“On a year-to-date basis, our shipments are up from last year, but not by significant margins,” he says. “For the industry as a whole, February almond shipments increased 35 percent from last February. Right now, it’s tough to say what will happen, but if March shipments rose at that rate and we can continue that pace, the surplus will be reduced going into the 2009 harvest.”

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