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California almond crop breaks record, despite ongoing drought
Local almond growers are contributing to a record breaking harvest of 2.1 billion pounds of California almonds despite the drought conditions. - photo by Journal file photo



Local almond growers are contributing to a record breaking harvest of 2.1 billion pounds of California almonds despite the drought conditions that have left many farmers concerned for their orchards and the future of California’s agricultural industry.

This year’s forecast— funded by the Almond Board of California and administered through the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Services California Field Office — is up more than seven percent from the May 1 subjective forecast that predicted 1.95 billion pounds of almonds.

“This year’s objective forecast during a third consecutive drought year is a testament to the state-of-the-art farming practices and techniques our growers use to minimize water use,” stated Bill Harp, almond grower and chairman of the Almond Board of California.

California currently plays host to 860,000 almond bearing orchard acres and the objective forecast has increased 4.63 percent from the previous year’s production estimate.   While the amount of almonds being produced is on the rise, so is the number of farmers planting almond orchards as the number of acres planted with almonds has increased by almost 15 percent since 2007, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census. While a substantial yield of almonds is beneficial to growers and processors looking to sell their product, market demand is just as vital. 

"Almond acreage has grown consistently over the years as our family farmers have built their businesses sustainably to meet global almond demand,” said Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board.

 “We are looking forward to celebrating a crop that is expected to be the largest on record and even with this volume, it will be a challenge to meet the ever growing global demand for almonds and almond products,” added Harp.

Despite the forecast’s positive outlook for almond growers, many of whom are able to sell their almonds due to aggressive marketing campaigns on behalf of the likes of the federal marketing order Almond Board of California and co-operative Blue Diamond Almond Growers, farmers still face one fickle factor: weather.

 Currently experiencing the third year of the California drought, as well as a quickening rate of depleting ground water, farmers are already looking for ways to resourcefully manage their crop for next year under strained water conditions. While some growers have implemented sustainable practices such as drip irrigation which waters exactly where the trees are located rather than flooding the entire orchard, many farmers are continuing to do exactly what the faded signs planted next to roads across the Central Valley state: Pray for Rain. “Farmers are still trying to find ways to save water, but they are certainly worried,” said Wayne Zipsar, executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, who noted that almond trees near the southern part of the Central Valley are showing extreme stress due to lack of water.

While Zipsar vocalized concerns that growers of all crops anticipated continued strained conditions, he did express faith in the unofficial mantra of farmers — doing more with less.

“No one has a more stellar record of doing more with less than agriculture,” said President of the California Farm Bureau Federation Paul Wenger at a water rights town hall last month.

Echoing Wenger’s sentiment, Zipsar added “Farmers are resilient.”