Record almond crop weighing down trees, prices

A record California almond crop has the state's 615,000 acres of bearing trees and spot almond prices sagging under its weight.

However, there is little surprise at the USDA/NASS subjective almond estimate of a record 1.3 billion pounds, which has almond prices at less than $2 per pound for the first time in six years.

If realized, the 2007 crop will not only be record-shattering, it will be the fifth one-billion pound California almond crop in the past six years.

The latest net spot prices are $1.80 per pound for Nonpareil and $1.40 for California varieties. However, with a record average yield projected to be 2,160 pounds per acre, those prices represent incomes averaging almost $4,000 per acre for Nonpareil and more than $3,000 per acre on California varieties with a production cost ranging from $1,500 to $2,000 per acre. This will be only the second 2,000-pound-per-acre average yield. The only other one-ton average yield occurred in 2002.

Younger orchards planted over the past decade will exceed the state average yield this year. These younger orchards are benefiting from improved water and nutrient delivery technologies.

Among the big unknowns are three-year-old orchards, excluded from the crop estimate. There are approximately 45,000 acres of young orchards. Some can produce up to 1,000 pounds per acre, but the average this year is more likely to be 200 to 300 pounds. One marketer said these trees are not carrying a huge crop. However, the crop on four-year-old orchards is considered very large.

There are an average of 105 trees per acre today, 10 more trees than just 10 years ago, and 21 more trees than in 1987.

The USDA/NASS objective measurement is up 2 percent from May's subjective forecast and 19 percent above last year's crop. It is based on 615,000 bearing acres. Production for the Nonpareil variety is forecast at 473 million meat pounds, 3 percent above last year's deliveries. Nonpareil variety represents 36 percent of California's total almond production.

This year's crop has benefited from good chilling hours last winter, and sufficient pollination, despite concerns about a honeybee shortage and hive health.

The average nut set per tree is 7,413, up 10 percent from 2006. The Nonpareil average of 7,067 represents a 3 percent increase from last year. Padres have the biggest load, 8,000 nuts per tree, followed by Butte with 7,866. California types (Monterey, Carmel, Fritz, etc.) average 7,633, trailed by Mission with 7,391.

The average kernel weight for all varieties sampled was 1.47 grams, 6 percent below last year. According to USDA/NASS, 98.5 percent of all sized-nuts were sound.

The survey for the objective measurement began May 24 and sampling was completed June 18. There were 1,730 trees sampled for the 2007 survey in 865 orchards.

The objective measurement survey is funded by the Almond Board of California.

The 80 percent confidence interval is from 1,235 million meat pounds to 1,425 million meat pounds. The results of the sampling procedures will encompass the true mean 80 percent of the time.

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