New data showing California acreage for Kern’s fourth highest-grossing crop shrank in the past year, even as bearing acreage expanded, has come as overall positive news for an industry suffering from oversupply.
Numbers last month from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service suggest total almond acreage declined by 1.2% last year to settle at 1.63 million acres across the state.
But bearing acreage, defined as the total land dedicated to almond orchards planted before 2021, expanded by an estimated 1.7% to reach 1.37 acres in California, according to a snapshot of the upcoming harvest provided in April by Sacramento-based Land IQ.
“These reports show a faster pace of removals and slower growth in bearing acreage, possibly signaling a trend towards lower California almond acreage for a while,” President and CEO Richard Waycott of the Almond Board of California said in a news release.
Last year’s pullback, which the board said was the first in more than 25 years, came at a time of tightening margins exacerbated by large inventory carryovers and high prices for irrigation water.
Things may be looking up, though: Waycott noted shipments in recent months have hit record levels as logistical issues since the pandemic “are being resolved.”
Prices have improved somewhat, too, said Senior Analyst and Vice President David Magaña at RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness. He noted new plantings have declined in recent years.
In another sign likely to cheer some in the industry, Magaña said a “particularly challenging pollination season” will likely drag the average yield to the lowest level in almost two decades. That could lower supply at a time of increased demand, potentially boosting prices further.
Land IQ, which bases its estimates on evidence including ground examinations and remote sensing, offered some data specific to Kern. It said bearing acreage came to 189,529 acres after the removal of 15,491 acres around the county earlier this year.
The company’s report estimated about 77,700 acres of almond orchards will be removed by the end of August, or about 29% more than were removed by Aug. 31 of last year.
RaboResearch sounded optimistic in a note last month.
“Tree nut exports are expected to continue to improve, while prices for some nuts are getting a much-needed lift,” the company stated. “Against this backdrop, adopting innovations to increase production efficiencies will be key to remaining competitive in the tree nut and fresh fruit markets.”
It noted almond exports for the 2022-23 marketing season are up about 12 percent, year over year, through March.
It predicted the size of the 2023 crop will influence prices in the months to come, saying, “Almond yields will likely be lighter as cold and wet weather prevailed during the blooming/pollination season."
A federal estimate on the size of next year’s almond crop is expected to be released next month.
Californian Business Editor John Cox can be reached by phone at 661-395-7404.