Optimism is holding as the year in tree nuts comes into clearer focus for Kern’s almond and pistachio growers.
California’s almond crop is officially estimated as 10 percent smaller than last year’s — welcome news after sluggish prices last year — while there are suggestions pistachios may tie last year’s record haul amid solid demand.
Signs look more positive for almonds than pistachios mainly because of supply expectations, but it remains to be seen exactly how the supply-demand balance will work out this year for growers of Kern’s third and fourth top-grossing crops behind grapes and citrus. Almonds brought county growers $1.1 billion in 2020, pistachios $945 million.
McKittrick-area almond grower Don Davis said his crop this year was down about 10 percent, same as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimate for the state’s crop as a whole.
He attributes the decline in his crop to a dry winter, adding some farms have been hit harder than others by insect damage. He noted prices paid to farmers are up a quarter since January or February at about $3 per pound.
It’s still a big crop, he said, and it doesn’t bother him that California’s overall production is down compared with last year.
“I think we needed a correction,” he said. “We need to sell more almonds or grow less almonds.”
The size of this year’s pistachio crop isn’t as clear.
President Richard Matoian of the American Pistachio Growers trade group said by email nuts have been smaller this harvest, probably because of hot and dry conditions.
He noted U.S. deliveries exceeded 1 billion pounds in the last crop year, and prices paid to farmers have been up since January. He declined to guess what might happen to prices if there’s another large crop this year.
From a processor perspective, this year’s pistachio crop is looking good: high quality with a small share of closed shells, and possibly more nuts than last year’s 1.04 billion-pound record, said Jeff Gibbons, grower relations manager at Terra Bella-based Setton Farms.
The weather this year has mostly cooperated, he said, with a sufficient amount of winter chill and then good weather for drying.
“The growing season was hot but pistachio trees weather the heat really well,” he said.
It’s been hard to get shipping containers and parts but for the most part processors have avoided delays, he added.
California’s almond industry started the 2021-22 season with 608 million pounds, up 35 percent year over year, reported David Magaña, vice president and senior analyst at RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness.
He noted the state’s marketable supply of almonds, including current production, will come in 4 percent less than last year. Shipments through September were also down 4 percent he added.
Almond shipments were mixed, Magaña reported: Domestically they were up 1 percent year over year, but internationally they were down 6 percent. He pointed out as well that there has been a higher proportion of smaller nuts this year, such that “the price spreads across sizes is widening.”
The abundance of California’s pistachio crop last year meant the volume left over from last season was up 36 percent year over year, Magaña noted.
Pistachio shipments were up 22 percent year over year by the end of the last season but they still fell short of the record set in 2018-19, he reported.
It’s unclear, he added, but there are reports this year’s production could come in about equal to last season’s record, which could soften prices. On the other hand, Magaña sees a relatively small pistachio crop in the Middle East as providing some price support.
Arvin-area pistachio grower Jean E.C. Laborde said his crop this year was triple the size of last year’s. Mostly it’s because his trees are maturing, he said, but he also credits his investment in soil amendments.
Laborde said he’s hopeful for a good price but he’s not sure what to expect. He just knows the quality looks good, with no worm trouble for a change, and there’s a bounty to be proud of.
“We made a good crop this year,” he said.
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