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All-time record almond crop for 2011
The USDA is predicting an all-time, record-breaking almond crop of 1.95 billion meat pounds for 2011. - photo by Journal file photo

For several years almond growers throughout the Central Valley have been hoping to reach the two billion pound barrier, and with the 2011-12 crop year they will likely be closer than ever.

The United States Department of Agriculture has forecasted an all-time, record-breaking almond crop of 1.95 billion meat pounds — based on 750,000 California almond bearing acres.

This year’s haul is expected to be up 19 percent from the 2010 harvest of 1.62 billion pounds.

Early this spring almond growers faced chilly, wet weather and a shortage of honey bees for pollination. Despite the challenges, the late cold weather actually lengthened the bloom, bees managed to pollinate and weather damage to the almond trees was minimal.

In early May the USDA predicted an already impressive 1.75 billion pound crop, but over the past two months that number has ballooned 11 percent.

The average nut set per tree is 7,353, up 23 percent from 2010.

For the nearly 6,000 almond growers in the Central Valley, the big news provides further proof and vindication of the almond’s importance in California’s economic viability.

“It’s pretty evident that agriculture and almonds are the backbone of California. We’re keeping a whole segment of the state’s economy afloat. Imagine what would happen if you took the almond industry out of Merced, Stanislaus, Madera and Fresno counties,” said Scott Hunter, Almond Board of California (ABC) public relations chair.

Hunter said the largest recorded almond crop in history came just in the nick of time to create a steady supply for record levels of demand shipments domestically and in Asia and India.

According to the ABC’s 2010 Almanac, almonds are now the top nut in Asia. Almond shipments in North America have increased from 233 million pounds in 2000 to nearly 500 million pounds in 2010.

“The almond industry has done a great job domestically and now we are investing in global almond demand by looking at market research in China and India,” said Hunter. “Consumers there are just like the U.S., they want that crunchy, heart-healthy food that almonds provide.”

In 2009, almonds were the top U.S. specialty crop export by value, nearly doubling wine and apples. In California almonds were the top crop as well, beating out dairy products.

In spite of an increase, Hunter, a grower in Merced County, does not envision a price reduction for almonds.

“I’m very optimistic. With record shipments, the price is going to be stable,” he said.

With demand growing the challenge for almond growers will continue and California growers’ goal of two billion pounds is within sight.

“With record shipments up 13 percent August 2010 through May 2011, the real story is that customers and consumers around the world are loving California almonds more each year, which means that our industry must keep pace with that demand by expanding its acreage and its productivity,” said ABC president and CEO Richard Waycott.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.