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 the weight.

But, no one is surprised at the USDA/NASS subjective crop estimate of a record of 1.3 billion pounds, just as there are no surprises at the current almond price that’s less than $2 per pound for the first time in six years.

If realized, the 2007 almond crop will not only be record-shattering, it will be the fifth 1 billion pound California crop in the past six years. Since 2002, crops have averaged right at 1 billion pounds; this one is estimated to be at least 200 million pounds more, and a giant step toward the 1.5-billion pound crops expected in the near future.

The latest net spot prices to producers are $1.80 per pound for Nonpareil and $1.40 for California varieties. But, with a record average yield projected at 2,160 pounds per acre, those prices represent income averaging almost $4,000 per acre for Nonpareil and more than $3,000 per acre for California varieties. Production costs range from $1,500 to $2,000 per acre.

This will be only the second 2,000 pound per acre average yield; the other 1 ton average yield was in 2002.

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

One of the big unknowns in any almond crop estimate are three-year-old orchards, which are not counted in the crop estimates. There is an estimated 45,000 acres of these 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. But, the crop on four-year-old orchards is considered very large.

There is an average of 105 trees per acre today, 10 more than just 10 years ago, and 21 more 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. Nonpareils represent 36 percent of California’s total almond production.

This year’s crop has benefited from good chilling hours last winter, and more-than-adequate 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 nut set of 7,067 represents a 3 percent increase from last year’s set. Padres have the biggest load, 8,000 nuts per tree followed by Butte with 7,866; California types (Monterey, Carmel, Fritz, etc.), 7,633; Mission, 7,391 and then Nonpareil.

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

The survey for the objective measurement began May 24 and sampling was completed by 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. This means that the results of the sampling procedures will encompass the true mean 80 percent of the time.

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