One of Kern’s largest growers said Wednesday it will immediately take 10,000 almond acres out of production in the western part of the county because of “limited water resources and market factors.“
The move by Wonderful Orchards, formerly known as Paramount Farming, idles a swath of land equal to about 5 percent of the total acreage devoted to almonds in 2014, according to county figures.
Almond prices have dropped sharply in recent months even as California continues to wrestle with the effects of at least four years of drought.
Despite that, the timing and magnitude of the company’s actions seemed almost shocking to one observer.
”That’s very surprising that they would pull 10,000 acres, especially because it’s bloom time right now,“ said Central Valley grower and economics teacher David Gill. Almonds remain one of the most profitable commodities being grown locally despite a roughly 37 percent decline in prices paid to producers, he added.
Steve Clark, a spokesman for Wonderful’s privately held Los Angeles-based parent company, declined to say what share of the company’s almond holdings the 10,000 acres represent, and he gave no indication what the company would do with the land.
He emphasized Wonderful remains ”committed to our Central Valley farming operations and will continue to look for growth opportunities.“
Almonds were Kern’s second most valuable crop after grapes in 2014, with sales estimated at $1.49 billion. Almond acreage reported by the county that year, which represents the most recent data available, totaled 208,250, an increase of almost 29 percent from the year before.
Irrigating orchards during the drought has presented a big expense for the Wonderful Co. In 2013, as Paramount Farming it paid the Buena Vista Water Storage District nearly $8 million for 7,142 acre-feet of water. That transaction took place at the relatively high price of about $1,120 per acre-foot.
Water may be getting somewhat less scarce for Central Valley almond growers.
On Wednesday, the California Department of Water Resources said water agencies that receive shipments from the State Water Project will get an estimated 30 percent of their full allocations, or twice the amount announced Jan. 26, and three times the estimate disclosed in December.
Department Director Mark Cowin was not necessarily optimistic. He noted water is still in critically low supply in California.
”We need a lot more wet weather this winter to take the edge off the drought. Using water carefully and sparingly is still the quickest, most effective way to stretch supplies,“ Cowin said in a news release.