High yields to help meet growing demand for nuts
By TIM HEARDEN
With the harvests of early varieties off to a late start, California almond and walnut processors are likely to spend the next month rushing to catch up.
A cool spring and mild summer pushed the ripening of the nuts -- and many of the Golden State's other crops -- back a few weeks, so almond growers only recently began gathering in their popular Nonpareils.
Meanwhile, most walnut farmers had yet to begin their harvests as of Sept. 17, said Pete Turner, chairman of the California Independent Handlers Coalition in Stockton, Calif.
"We are a solid 10 days behind on early varieties and it doesn't look like that's going to change," Turner said. "Early varieties represent 15 to 20 percent of the crop. With mid-varieties, we don't expect them to be 10 days late. ... They'll catch up."
Likewise, the harvest of Nonpareil almonds -- which represent 39 percent of the state's almond production -- is getting stacked up against the arrival of later varieties, said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers.
"We're probably about halfway through Nonpareils right now, and we're starting to see a few of the pollinators come down," Baker said. "I think we'll catch up over the next few weeks and probably end up out of the field by mid-November."
California's Central Valley produces most of the nation's walnuts and 80 percent of the world's almonds. Both commodities are expected to have plentiful yields after weather problems marred the crops in 2009.
There are 510,000 tons of walnuts to be harvested -- about 79,000 more than last year -- and the USDA has estimated a 1.65 billion pound almond crop, although it may come up a short.
The big yields would help meet growing demand as both crops' carryover supplies have been depleted. California almonds posted shipping records for the fourth consecutive crop year in 2009-10, as more than 1 billion pounds were sent to 90 countries and 450 million pounds were shipped domestically, according to the Almond Board of California.
Like many crops, almonds and walnuts are ripening later than usual because of the cool spring and summer. And the almond harvest has been further frustrated by passing showers, including one Sept. 19 that doused parts of Northern California.
Brendon Flynn, general manager of Pacific Farms and Orchards Inc. in Gerber, Calif., predicted the rain would set his almond harvest back another week as crews give the ground -- and the nuts -- a chance to dry.
"Almonds have been a little bit stubborn," Flynn said. "With the shorter day and the later start, it's hard to get them to dry."
However, the overall quality of the harvest has been excellent so far, Baker said.
"We've had nice looking kernels and low rejects to this point," he said. "The Nonpareil crop is coming in heavier in the south and lighter in the middle and northern parts of the state, but they were anticipated lighter in those areas."
Almond Board of California: www.almondboard.com
Blue Diamond Almonds: www.bluediamond.com
California Walnut Commission: www.walnuts.org/walnuts