Growers cheer almonds

Tim Hearden/Capital Press Workers prepare to collect almonds that have been shaken from trees in an orchard south of Red Bluff, Calif. This yearÕs crop is expected to easily surpass last seasonÕs roughly 1.65 billion pound harvest, which was also a record.

Extension advisor reports excellent quality, clean shakes

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

RED BLUFF, Calif. -- Nonpareil almonds have been coming out of the orchards in California, ushering in a harvest of what's expected to be a record 1.95 billion pound almond crop.

Hullers and shellers in the San Joaquin Valley got their first loads on Aug. 19 -- the same day as last year, said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers.

In Northern California, the first nuts were on the ground last week, awaiting crews to collect them and send them to be processed.

"I think all of our orchards look pretty good," said Rick Buchner, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor here. "It's a good crop, really clean."

So far, the quality of the nuts looks excellent, with "nice, blond-colored almonds," Baker said. Growers have been getting a clean shake from the trees, which will reduce the need for poling, he said.

Nonpareils are the first almonds to be harvested, and they're expected to amount to 750,000 pounds statewide, up 35 percent from last year's deliveries. The variety represents 38 percent of California's almond production, which in turn accounts for about 80 percent of the world's almonds.

While nonpareils are a little late again this year because of mild spring and summer weather, pollinator varieties are not far behind, Baker said. If they become inundated, processing plants will shell a certain amount of nonpareils and store the rest until they can get other varieties out the door, he said.

This year's crop is expected to easily surpass last season's roughly 1.65 billion pound harvest, which was also a record. This year's yield comes after trees had excellent chilling hours last winter and a prolonged blossom caused more overlap among varieties, according to a government report.

Cold weather can affect bee activity, but the bees came through this year, leaving an average nut set per tree of 7,353, up 23 percent from 2010, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service stated in its crop prediction report earlier this summer.

A big crop will help growers meet an increase in global demand for almonds, which has approached 10 percent a year, Baker has said. As many as 1.85 billion pounds will be shipped, so a 1.95 billion crop would be just enough, he said.

The high demand could boost prices for almonds, which now range from $2.25 to $2.55 a pound for nonpareils and $2 or less a pound for other varieties, Baker said.

"I think as demand goes on and we see the supply of the 2012 crop, we'll see pressure on pricing," he said.

Among other nuts in California, codling moth and husk fly sprays were ongoing in walnut orchards as the crop continued to develop, according to a NASS crop condition report issued Aug. 29. Pistachios are running behind last year's pace but hull split is becoming visible.

With walnut growers having fears of another early rain amid a late harvest, which occurred last year, some growers are considering inducing hull split with etheryl, Buchner said.

"Walnuts are usually ripe and ready to go before hull split," he said. "So if we can induce hull split, we can advance the harvest by two weeks."

Online

Blue Diamond Growers: www.bluediamond.com

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