Big almond crop in Californian orchards

Almond trees in California’s Central Valley carry a heavy crop this year. It is even heavy enough that during springtime windstorms, many of the shallow-rooted trees fell over or had branches split.

Anticipating a record crop of 3 billion pounds, marketers say they'll be monitoring impacts of the pandemic and of international trade negotiations. Crop losses related to the windstorms will have only a fractional impact on overall supplies.

"In Fresno, Madera and Kings, we had some pretty strong winds blowing through, in excess of 20 miles an hour; that's where we really start getting some issues," said Fresno County farmer Matthew Efird, who also grows walnuts, pistachios and peaches. "In 800 acres of trees, I might have lost 1 and a half to 2 acres of trees. With my older blocks, I've probably lost anywhere from 50 to 100 trees and with the young trees, we've probably had the same amount, but of those, we've only lost maybe 25. The rest, we can re-secure them and they'll recover."

University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Roger Duncan in Stanislaus County said: "You have a heavy crop and you have limb breakage, so in some ways it's a good problem to have." He said the valley experienced ideal bloom conditions in February with no rain, which allowed honeybees to pollinate and set the almond crop.

Eric Genzoli, who grows almonds with his family in Turlock and Hughson, said, "This was the best bloom in my lifetime and the best bloom my dad can remember; these trees are loaded."

Lee Heringer, who works as a pest control advisor for M&T Ranch west of Chico, said Sacramento Valley almond growers also experienced some tree losses and broken branches. "A lot of times, it's the younger orchards where they're already producing a really good crop, but they don't have the structure yet to support it," Heringer said. "Up here, we had the best bloom weather we've had in years, and it shows."

At the Almond Board of California, President and CEO Richard Waycott said the almond business has "come through the first phase of COVID in pretty good shape."

"If you take the months of February to May, we're up about 10% in terms of U.S. shipments and we're also up with exports, so we're having a good year," Waycott said. "We've been shipping at record levels pretty much throughout the past six months," though he said shipments in May declined both domestically and internationally.

About two-thirds of California almonds sell on export markets, Goodrich said, and Waycott said the pandemic has caused logistical issues in the largest single export market, India. A lockdown during the pandemic, he said, "caused a shortage of truck drivers, port workers or courier workers."


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