After less than ideal conditions during the 2019 pollination season, the United States Department of Agriculture is estimating that California’s almond crop this year will produce a smaller number of nuts than 2018.
The California Almond Objective Measurement Report, published July 3, estimates that the 2019 crop will be 2.20 billion pounds, down 3.5 percent from the 2018 crop production of 2.28 billion pounds. This year’s Objective Report projects an almond crop down 12 percent from the May 2019 California Almond Subjective Forecast of 2.5 billion pounds. The Objective Report collects data later in the growing season, closer to harvest, and is based on an actual count of nuts on the trees versus phone interviews with farmers, the method used for the Subjective Forecast.
According to the Objective Report, the average nut set per tree is 4,667, down 17.8 percent from the 2018 almond crop. The Nonpareil average nut set per tree is 4,429, down 10.1 percent from last year’s set. The average kernel weight for all varieties sampled was 1.54 grams, unchanged from the 2018 average weight.
“While the industry experienced less than ideal weather conditions this spring, California remains the best place in the world to grow almonds,” said Holly A. King, Kern County almond farmer and Chair of the Almond Board of California (ABC) Board of Directors. “As leaders in California agriculture and producers of 82 percent of the world’s almonds, we have made a public commitment to grow almonds in better, safer and healthier ways, protecting our communities and the environment. We feel a great sense of obligation to responsibly produce a healthy food accessible to people around the world.”
While rain is usually a welcome sight for California almond growers, a series of powerful storms throughout the Central Valley in February kept bees hunkered in their hives during the usual pollination season.
In Turlock, pollination season for almond orchards normally begins around Valentine’s Day, according to almond farmer Christine Gemperle of Gemperle Orchards. By that time this year precipitation numbers were already well past the historical average for the month, and by the end of the month had reached more than double the amount of rainfall the area received in February of last year.
The rainfall came throughout the pollination season in February with little reprieve, save for a few days here and there throughout the month. This gave bees in Gemperle’s orchards, as well as bees in orchards throughout the state, little time to pollinate what blooms were left on the almond trees after the wind and rain had swept through.
“The bees may have gotten one full day of pollinating in this season, and on other days they may have only gotten two to four hours,” Gemperle said during a March interview. “But in those few hours that the bees can get out, they do what they can do. It seems like they try extra hard.”
In 2017, a record amount of rainfall swept the region, leaving farmers unsure if their blossoms would be washed away before they could be pollinated at all. Despite the uncertainty, the result was a crop full of almonds — 2.26 billion pounds to be exact, compared to 2.135 billion in 2016 and 2.25 billion last year according to the Almond Board of California.
Despite the surprisingly ample almond crop following 2017’s heavy rains, Gemperle wasn’t as optimistic that this year would yield the same successful results when speaking to the Journal in March.
“I think this year is almost worse, because that year we actually had some breaks in between the rain where the bees could get out and fly,” she said. “Although we have had a few breaks this year, those days weren’t good days — they were either cloudy, cold or windy.”