© 2024 KVPR | Valley Public Radio - White Ash Broadcasting, Inc. :: 89.3 Fresno / 89.1 Bakersfield
89.3 Fresno | 89.1 Bakersfield
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

With already too many almonds, growers could see three billion pounds more of them

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio

A pair of reports suggest almond production this year will remain too high to help stabilize a plummeting market value.

FRESNO, Calif. – After a forecast last month predicted California’s almond acreage was dropping, an annual spring forecast published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows production this year could reach 3 billion pounds.

That would make for a crop that’s 21% larger than last year’s, and it would approach the all-time high of roughly 3.1 billion pounds produced in 2020.

As for how the crop could be so much more abundant this year, the USDA points to growers’ increasing yield per acre, as well as favorable weather conditions earlier this spring that led to a successful bloom and pollination season.

The problem for growers, however, is that the market is already awash with almonds. A high annual supply for many years coupled with COVID-era international shipping snags have led to the stockpiling of hundreds of millions of pounds above what is typically carried over from year to year.

As a result, market prices have been in decline since their peak in 2014. In 2022, the average price a pound of almonds could fetch was the lowest it’s been in more than twenty years, meaning many growers can’t even recover their operating costs.

Justin Diener, who grows almonds and other crops in the western Fresno County community of Five Points, said the USDA forecast is bad news for growers who had been hoping for a rebound in prices.

“This large crop will make it more difficult for them to have a profitable year,” he said.

The industry has been slow to respond to falling prices, he added, because trees that were planted when prices were high are just reaching maturity.

Now, he said, “the low prices are causing people to respond by removing more orchards and not planting new orchards,” said Diener. “But the lag is built into the fact that…almonds, being permanent crops, take multiple years to enter production.”

Kern County farm manager Margaux Hein said she too was surprised about the forecasts, particularly the minuscule drop in almond acreage. Although the predicted reduction in acreage is minimal — only 600 acres out of an eye-popping 1.4 million acres statewide — it’s the first time in three decades that the land used for producing the nuts hasn’t grown.

“I honestly think industry wide everyone was hoping for more acres to be pulled out,” she said.

That’s not because growers want each other fail, Hein said, but rather that growers hope others can find more profitable uses for the land.

“We are overplanted as an industry,” she said. “We have oversupplied almonds. The only way that we can increase our revenue and increase our prices is with less acreage.”

Almonds have long been one of the state’s most significant cash crops. In 2022, the specialty crop accounted for just over just over $5 billion of the state’s ag revenue, as the third most profitable commodity behind dairy products and grapes.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.