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Almond crop overcomes poor weather, heads toward record


Weather may contribute to insect problems


By CECILIA PARSONS


For the Capital Press


In spite of not-so-bee-friendly weather during bloom, almond growers are expecting a record-breaking crop this summer.


Figures released by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service show a 1.75 billion pound crop is hanging on the trees. That is 6 percent more than last year's crop, which also set a record for the industry. Statewide, a total of 750,000 acres are in production, also an increase over 2010.


Ripon-area almond grower and processor Dave Phippen said the larger crop size comes from a combination of added acres plus a heavier crop on the trees. However, crop size isn't uniform from north to south. The central growing region has a heavier crop this year. Growers in Kern County, the state's largest almond growing region, with more than 140,000 acres, report a crop size similar to last year. In the north, Phippen said, growers report a slightly smaller crop.


With new acres coming into production, the numbers add up to a larger crop.


"Considering it was the worst bee flight in years, I'm amazed," Phippen said.


"We were prepared for the worst, but we're happy with the way it turned out."


Mike Mason, a Kern county grower and chairman of the almond board, said there were concerns about a sparse bloom on early varieties along with the cool weather. Looking at the trees today, he said for the most part, varieties other than nonpareil are having a better year.


"It will be one of the best for all except the nonpareil," Mason predicted.


Chill hours for the crop were adequate across the state, but cool, wet and windy weather during bloom did not have the same effect on the crop size as it has in past years.


Bee strength was good, but cool to freezing temperatures generally kept them in their hives. The cold weather also lengthened the bloom, causing more overlap between varieties. In the north, temperatures dropped below freezing, one of the reasons for a smaller size crop.


Mason said it was a little early to tell, but growers will be watching for insect pressure after a wet winter. Navel orangeworm is the main pest in almonds and the leaf-footed plant bug can also flare and affect nut quality and yield.


Water won't be the issue in Kern county, Mason said, due to the large snowpack. Phippen said that growers who shorted their trees may irrigate more and nut sizes will improve.


Growers who use surface water are also expecting to have an adequate supply.


Along with a record crop, worldwide markets for almonds are firm. Phippen said prices remained firm after the record-crop report. The almond industry also expects the cupboard to be nearly bare before the harvest begins in late July. Sales have been good and if they remain at the same levels through June and July, Phippen said, the carryout will be small.


There were 85,000 nonbearing acres in 2010. Bearing acres have increased each year since 1999.


The forecast is based on grower reports. From April 21 to May 2, 375 growers representing 27 percent of the total bearing acres were surveyed about their crop size.



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