Lower yields, higher costs cancel out higher revenue
By TIM HEARDEN
ARBUCKLE, Calif. -- Nonpareils are the gold standard among almond varieties, but planting more of them won't necessarily net a grower a bigger profit.
So concludes Joe Connell, a University of California Cooperative Extension researcher and farm advisor, after a nearly 10-year study of what would happen if farmers upped the percentage of the valuable nut in their orchards.
Nonpareils don't yield as much as some other varieties, so the difference in income is negated, Connell told farmers at a field day here May 3. Further, having two-thirds of your crop in the Nonpareil variety could mean added harvesting and spraying costs.
"Essentially over the course of time ... the dollar value was not significantly different with these treatments," said Connell, who compared orchards with a 1-to-1 ratio of Nonpareils and other varieties with others that had more of the premium nut. "Even with a higher value per pound, the Nonpareils only showed a higher numerical value in three of the years."
The research impressed Leslie Barth, a grower and packer from Esparto, Calif.
"We believe in that 1-to-1" ratio, Barth said. "I found it interesting that the cost it takes to farm something like this (increased percentage) ... doesn't pay for itself in the yield you're going to get."
Nonpareils -- which represent 39 percent of the state's almond production -- are preferred among many consumers for their size, flavor and quality. Over a six-year period ending in 2011, Nonpareils averaged $1.95 a pound compared to $1.43 for Price and Sano almonds, although the difference has narrowed more recently, Connell said.
High demand for almonds and improved new varieties other than Nonpareil have helped narrow the gap, he said, which may provide even more of a disincentive for growers to overplant Nonpareils.
With two-thirds of an orchard being Nonpareils, that means the trees are interspersed with other varieties in every row. That makes the harvest and spraying more expensive, because both are done at different times for the different varieties, Connell said.
"With single-variety rows, at harvest time you just have to harvest the row once and then harvest the pollenizers," he said. "It's easy to keep the nuts separate."
With a 2-to-1 ratio, "you have to harvest every row twice," he said.
University of California almond information: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/datastore/?ds=391&reportnumber=612&catcol=2806&categorysearch=Almond