It seems that Mendoza' almond production for the 2015-2016 season will be positive as the production weathered the first frost and has a very high level of flowering and fruit set.
The expectation of a good harvest, coupled with the strong demand of the internal market, which is still undersupplied, consolidates the idea that this will be one of the few crops that has a chance of overcoming the difficult situation of the regional agricultural production.
Martin Zanetti, nursery owner and producer from San Martin, said " in Mendoza, the almond tress were in full bloom during the frosts of the first half of September and they endured the cold without problems, so production here will be normal."
However, he didn't rule out that a strong frost could affect the crops in their current state.
"The almond trees have completely blossomed and their leaves have reached a full expression and there are fruits of 2 cm, so they could be harmed by a frost below -3.5% or -4°C, and that's unlikely. Therefore, we've estimated that there's a very low risk of this phenomenon happening, even though this spring has been very messy, from a climatic point of view, and colder than normal," he said.
"The warm winds quite affected the 2015/2016 production season in San Juan," said Zannetti. "There was no frost damage, but there was a low level of fruit set, so the production expected in that province for the harvest between February and March next year is not good; it will be below 50%," he stated.
Meanwhile, Augustine Cruzat, an adviser to several almond projects in Mendoza, also stated that the province had surpassed the frost risks. According to Cruzat, "this year we've had a very good curdle and the pit size in several of the plantations has almost reached its final size, particularly the Guara variety."
He stated that, "these are projects where we have worked very hard on the nutritional part. We performed a very good post-harvest last year and thanks to that we are seeing these results. Thus, if we have no problems with other contingencies, I think it will be a very good year in terms of quality."
Even the South, where temperatures are not too favorable for almond cultivation, has weathered the risk of frost. According to Fabian Gauron, the almond from General Alvear (where there are very few hectares of this species) has flowered and the fruit set has been exceptional.
Gauron is a farm manager of the Manso River firm, which has 3 hectares implanted with almond trees in full production and its fruit already highly developed. "We lit a few fires during the three nights of frost, and we had no problems. We'll have to see what happens with the stone," he said.
Cruzat believes that the production volume will be higher compared to last year. According to him, the old plantations will maintain yields and the new plantations that have not yet reached their full potential will have a higher production than in the previous season.
His forecast not only applies to the plantations he works with because, as he states, "I have been in contact with other producers and people running other projects who have also had very good flowering and a very good setting, and no one was negatively affected by the frost."
Martin Zanetti doesn't quite agree with this projection. Mendoza believes the 2015/2016 production cycle will be good but not as good as the in the 2014/2015 period, when producers had a high density of flowering and achieved their projections.
"We'll be certain in a month, but I think this year, Mendoza will produce about 30% less kilos than last year, because it's been a normal bloom, but a bit long, and we had a cold spring," Zannetti stated.
He added: "The plant comes from a strong production process in 2014-2015, and this year it isn't in optimal conditions to bear fruit in large quantities, it bloomed well, but not all the fruits will set."
Regarding the impact that the very good production of the 2014-2015 season could have had on this season, Cruzat noted that "alternate bearing in almond is not as marked as in olives, for example."
"If producers have a very good nutritional plan during the growing period (until December), the plant will have adequate resources to develop the fruit that year and they will create the conditions for the next production cycle. Fluctuations in yields will be less noticeable in time, and they won't be so significant," he stated.
"The plantations that are over 8 years old, which are already established, can have a more or less a constant production, if well managed," he added.
In turn, Fabian Gauron believes that this "may be an exceptional year, if there are no weather problems. I've never seen the almonds like this, and the trees are six years old."
Supply and Demand
Argentina's almond production is destined for the domestic market. In fact, it's not enough to supply it. "Our market research indicates that Argentina needs the production of 7,000 hectares of almond trees," stated Martin Zanetti. "Today we have about 2,700 hectares devoted to this crop throughout the country, much of which is going into production for the first time in this campaign. Additionally, there are also some hectares that are semi-abandoned because the crops were located in very cold areas and have serious production problems," he added.
According to his estimates, "Mendoza has about 2,000 hectares, including holdings of small producers, which amount to between 500 and 600 hectares, and the plantations of the Spaniards in Tres Porteñas and the plantations of Aceitera General Deheza (AGD) in Jocoli."
San Martin has about 700 hectares, 80% of which are unproductive because the crop does not thrive due to the low temperatures. Lavalle has about 800 hectares and nearly 70% of these crops have already entered various stages of production. However, he stated, "I don't think that production will be allocated to the domestic market."
With the exception of East Mendoza, all plantations are achieving the expected average yields for each variety. "We are talking about 1,500 kilos of peeled almond pit per hectare," Zanetti said. Moreover, San Juan has about 500 hectares in production and there are some 200 hectares between Rio Negro and Neuquén.
He concluded that there was a very important growth potential and stressed that almond production must take-off as walnut production had done before. "If we implement 8,000 or 10,000 hectares in the next ten years, we will be able to start exporting," he said.
Prices remain the same
Martin Zanetti said that, "prices are too high in the international markets because both California and Chile had a very low production in the previous campaign."
"Therefore, prices in 2015 have been above average. In the domestic market, they've been above US $15 a kilo, and in the international market a kilo of peeled almonds costs more than US $11 a kilo. Usually they cost $10 and $6, respectively," said Zanetti.
Looking back at what happened in the Argentine domestic market in recent seasons, and changing the values into the national currency, he said, "a kilo of almonds was sold for 80 pesos in the domestic market in 2013, for nearly 120 pesos in 2014, and for 160 pesos in 2015 ".
"Meanwhile, in the international market it went from US $6 in 2013 to around $11 in 2014 and this year." Additional to the international prices are the import costs, "because Argentina imports almonds every year," Zanetti said.
The increase in international prices was due to the low yields in Chile, as its plantations were affected by frost, and the low production in California (the largest producer in the world) due to the drought.