BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer email@example.com
California's almond production this year is forecast at a record 2.10 billion meat pounds, up 3 percent from last year's crop, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Yet as the global appetite for almonds seems insatiable, few in the industry are worried about a glut. If anything, it's likely local growers will be adding trees.
"I think in the near future, at least, everybody I've talked to says there's plenty of demand," said Terry Nachtigall, who grows almonds on 130 acres north of Wasco.
Nachtigall said he's expecting a slightly smaller crop this year than last year, but that his yield will still be healthy.
Almond trees are alternate-bearing, meaning they produce large yields every other year and lighter yiields in intervening years. The cycle can be evened out somewhat by growing practices, such as pruning heavily ahead of the bigger yield year.
Almonds are Kern County's second largest agricultural commodity by value, according to the Kern County Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards. They were a $727.4 million industry last year.
Kern had 151,765 acres of almonds in 2011, up from 145,860 acres of almonds in 2010. That made it the county's largest crop among orchards and vineyards.
Most almonds are not consumed as stand-alone snack foods. Rather, the majority are incorporated into food processing for cereals, candybars and such.
Many factors have contributed to almond expansion across the Central Valley, said Daniel Sumner, a professor and director of UC Davis' Agricultural Issues Center.
Growers have been planting more productive varieties and are regularly improving their growing techniques, he said.
At the same time, almond prices are high, which encourages farmers to rip out less profitable crops and replace them with almond trees.
Kern's almonds were worth $3,670 per ton last year, up 13 percent from $3,240 per ton in 2010, according to the crop report.
It also doesn't hurt that nuts are less labor intensive than some other crops because there is a lot of mechanization in the harvest process.
"People keep asking, when is the bubble going to burst in terms of demand?" Sumner said. "Every year, someone says, 'We can't possibly sell this many almonds,' but then we do."
It's inevitable that at some point, supply will surpass demand and prices will come down, but no one knows when that will be, Sumner said.
There's no sign that global demand is letting up. Almonds were among the county's top 10 agricultural exports last year.
"The health benefits of almonds are well known, and global per capita consumption is still well below a lot of other crops," Sumner said. "We're the dominant supplier worldwide, and as more and more people get exposed to almonds and incomes grow, people are finding they like them a lot."