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Wet winter contributes to increased almond crops
Total standing almond acreage in Stanislaus County increased to 1,662,633 total acres in 2021, up from 1,552,754 total acres the year prior. - photo by Journal file photo

The rainy weather that pummeled California for much of winter and into the spring was not only beneficial to the state’s nearly-empty rivers and lakes, but to almond orchards as well.

The California Almond Forecast estimates that the state’s 2017 almond crop is 2.2 billion pounds, up from last year’s 2.14 billion pounds for an increase of 2.8 percent. While heavy rains typically negatively affect the almond crop, leading to complications with pollination, pesticide application and bloom fall, such was not the case this year according to Richard Waycott, President and CEO of the Almond Board of California.

“We’re thrilled,” said Waycott. “We had such a good winter, which replenished moisture and ground water for crops. All in all, this winter has been positive.”

According to Waycott, the excess rain this winter led to many positives for the California almond grower community, such as increased surface water allocations for irrigation. While rainy and windy weather during the first half of the pollination period was a concern, it turned out not to be an issue, said Waycott.

“The bees were able to overcome whatever poor weather they were experiencing and they got the job done,” he said.

California growers have continued to produce quality, healthy beehives thanks to better care and year-round beehive management, resulting in more productive pollination periods.

“Growers are paying better attention to how their bees are handled, and minimizing any exposure to pesticides,” said Waycott.

The price of almonds is recovering as well following the drought, he added. From fall 2015 to spring 2016, prices underwent a significant price adjustment and fell by about 50 percent. Prices recovered last summer, and are continuing to rise.

“Almonds are trading at an advantageous level, so we should have a good year,” he said.

While the drought did cause many growers throughout the state to fallow their fields, almond growers did not meet the same fate, Waycott explained. Most of the crops fallowed during the drought were annual crops, he said, while almonds are perennial and able to adapt to lesser water conditions.

“We did have some orchards that were pushed out on the west side of the state, but not a significant number,” said Waycott. “If the drought would have gone on for another few years it would have been somewhat of a different story, but growers did what they could to keep their perennial crops alive.”

The satisfactory conditions for almond growers have also led to a boom in their numbers, with 300 more growers appearing on the most recent census. Additionally, outside investors have shown interest in California’s agricultural real estate.

The state currently has 1,000,00 bearing acres and 300,000 non-bearing acres – a number Waycott expects to increase as the state continues to recover from its dry years.

“With what our research says when we go through drought years, it takes two years to get back to production levels,” he said. “This year is getting us back, and next year we’ll be back.”

Despite the good news thanks to the wet winter, Waycott warned that California growers must remain vigilant and prepared should the dry weather return. Focusing on long term solutions to diversify the trees’ water source is crucial, he said, such as working on root stalks that are more tolerant and developing or using new technology to increase water sufficiency.

“We are thankful for the water we’ve received but our mentality is permanent drought mode,” said Waycott. “This sense of urgency is something we will maintain, and we won’t let one wet year distract us.”