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  • Almond growers plant 14.5 million new trees despite price slide

    Nov 8th, 2016

    A nursery survey reporting at least 14.5 million new almond trees have been planted since June 2015 shows the continued vibrancy of the industry, experts say.Based on an average of 135 trees per acre, the new purchases equate to 108,000 acres of almonds planted, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.A little more than 71 percent of the trees sold — or 77,000 acres — are new almond orchards while the rest were used to replace existing trees or orchards that were taken out, the agency explains.

    The estimate is consistent with an April acreage report that found there are 220,000 non-bearing acres of almonds waiting to come on line, said Richard Waycott, president and chief executive officer of the Almond Board of California.“Those trees are between 1 and 3 years of age,” said Waycott, noting that if one-third of them are new, that would be close to 77,000 acres. “It’s in keeping with where we are in terms of new orchard expansion.”

    The growth continues as prices have fallen by nearly half in the past year from the more than $4 a pound that was paid for some almonds during the 2014 crop year. The reduced prices and development of new products using almonds revived demand, leading to record shipments this summer, industry officials said.“It’s still a good investment,” University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Roger Duncan said of almonds. “It still makes sense. Farmers are still making money. It’s still profitable. If you’re a farmer and you own land, you have to farm something, and you look at all your options.”

    Several factors have fed the continued growth in acreage even amid lower prices, experts said. For one thing, some of the trees may have been ordered from nurseries while prices were still booming, as there was a waiting list of a year or two for some varieties.Moreover, the lower prices were an incentive for growers to replace older orchards that had lost productivity, Duncan said.

    “An almond orchard’s lifespan is somewhere around 25 years,” he said. “A lot of orchards have been artificially ... kept on life support. In previous times they would have been removed, but because prices were so high, even the fairly poorly producing orchards were making money.”Satellite imagery used by the Almond Board has found that 96 percent of new almond orchards have gone into existing irrigated land, replacing other crops, Waycott said. Only 4 percent went onto grazing land or other land that wasn’t irrigated, he said.

    “I think it’s just a shift going on between what (crops) are more profitable as foreseen by growers and more essential in the California environment than certain crops that can be grown elsewhere,” Waycott said.In anticipation of a 25 percent increase in production over the next three years as the new trees come on line, the Almond Board is seeking the USDA’s permission to raise its grower assessment from 3 cents to 4 cents per pound, which would increase its income from about $60 million to $80 million annually, Waycott said.

    The board is boosting its marketing efforts, reigniting a program in Japan, targeting men in Canada and increasing funding for an advertising campaign in Europe, he said. In January, the board will begin assessing the Mexican market for opportunities to promote almonds, he said.“Across many of our existing and some new programs, we’re upping our game” to make sure demand keeps up with supply, he said.