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Good news, bad news for California almond growers
almond crops
Almonds headed for harvest next month are larger than last year’s, according to a USDA report (Journal file photo).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released 2023 California Almond Objective Measurement Report shows that almond production is forecast at 2.60 billion meat pounds, up 4 percent from May's forecast, and 1 percent above last year’s crop of 2.57 billion meat pounds — all this despite the heavy rainfall this winter that hindered bee pollination of trees.

So, how does less pollination result in a larger-than-expected crop?

Simply, almonds headed for harvest next month are just plain bigger than last year’s, according to the USDA report.

Local grower Christine Gemperle, co-owner of Gemperle Orchards just outside of Turlock and a member of the Almond Board of California, believes this is due to several factors.

“One, you have less nuts on the trees,” said Gemperle. “It also has to do with the growing season. When you have a really, really warm season, everything develops really fast, and the nuts reach maturity at a smaller size. This year, the cooler temperatures extended the season, and nuts kept growing and growing before they finally reached maturity.”

In addition, Gemperle said, the historic rainfall played a key role. 

“A lot of people who pump water end up with a salinity problem,” said Gemperle. “For the last few years, with all the pumping, you get salt in soil, and that affects the way trees can uptake water. With all the rain flushing that salt below the root zone, maybe now the soils are a little more balanced. That contributes to a healthier tree and nut.”

All this is good news for almond farmers, right? Not entirely.

It’s good for farmers in that larger nuts will fetch a higher price, but the industry as a whole wouldn’t mind a smaller crop.

“People are not making any money planting almonds because we have an oversupply right now,” said Gemperle. “We’re still dealing with the oversupply of the last couple years when we had big crops and it spilled over to the next year. We want a smaller crop so we can kind of go back and reset to a carryover that’s a reasonable number.”  

Prices reacted almost immediately upon learning of USDA’s estimate. In an interview with the Bakersfield Californian’s John Cox, Isaac Zarecki of StrataMarkets said many believed the crop would come in as low as 2.3 billion pounds, and certainly not over last year’s figure of 2.57 billion.

"They were expecting a really small crop and that prices would recover a little bit," Zarecki told the Californian.

Production for the Nonpareil variety is forecast at 1.10 billion meat pounds, 10 percent above last year’s output of 1 billion meat pounds. The Nonpareil variety represents 42 percent of California’s total almond production.

The almond bloom began in the middle of February and peaked at the end of the month. Record-level rainfall and unprecedented stormy conditions hindered bee pollination activity in orchards across the state. Cooler than normal temperatures continued through early summer and delayed the maturity of the crop.

Growers have been irrigating, applying pest treatments, and preparing for harvest, which is expected to begin in the next month, according to the USDA report.