MODESTO, Calif. — Continued stress on trees because of the ongoing drought will lead to a slightly smaller almond crop this year, industry insiders predict.
The Almond Board of California expects this year’s harvest to produce 1.8 billion meat pounds, or about 3 percent less than a federal forecast of 1.85 billion pounds in May and down 3.3 percent from last year’s production of 1.867 billion pounds.
The board expects nuts to be harvested from 890,000 bearing acres statewide, up slightly from the historic high of 880,000 bearing acres forecast by the National Agricultural Statistics Service last year.
This year’s estimate reflects the continued stress that growers are coping with as a result of the drought, which is now in its fourth year, said Mike Mason, an almond grower and processor who chairs the almond board.
“The California agriculture community is certainly hoping that the drought abates next winter, but in the meantime, growers are doing everything within their power to conserve water,” he said as the board unveiled its crop estimate on July 1.
The average nut set per tree is 5,874, down 12 percent from the 2014 crop, the board reported. The Nonpareil average nut set is 5,239, down 14 percent from last year, while the average kernel weight for all varieties sampled was 1.43 grams, down 1 percent from the 2014 average weight of 1.45 grams.
In May, NASS forecast the bearing acreage for 2015 at 290,000 acres, resulting in a yield of 2,080 pounds per acre. The expanding acreage comes despite some growers’ decision to take some older orchards out because of a lack of water, but others are putting in new orchards because the returns for almonds are lucrative enough that growers can afford to purchase water for them, industry professionals have said.
Last year’s harvest fell well short of the NASS prediction of a 2.1 billion pound crop as growers encountered smaller kernels and more rejects than normal because of the drought. The agency believed a net gain of 20,000 bearing acres last year would fuel an increase from the 2 billion meat pounds turned out in 2013.
However, a few orchards didn’t turn a crop last year because of a lack of water, and near-daily 100-degree heat for a stretch last summer further impacted the crop.
This year, nuts were apparently sizing well with crop development about two weeks ahead of normal, NASS reported. But triple-digit temperatures are back this summer; some Central Valley communities saw their afternoon highs average above 98 degrees in June, according to the National Weather Service.