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  • US (CA): Almond growers want rain and bees

    Jan 28th, 2016

    The two things that California's almond growers need- rain and bees, do not mix well together. While the growers hoped for rainfall relief, reports, they are now concerned that the persistent cold, wet weather brought on by El Nino might dampen pollination activity and potentially trigger lower crop yields."A key question is what will happen to almond blooms in February," said Vernon Crowder, a senior analyst with a focus on food and agribusiness research for Rabobank. "Bees don't fly in bad weather."As the weather trend known as El Nino rolls out in the Northern Hemisphere and dumps rain, there has been growing talk an El Nino-impacted "wet bloom" could yield a sub-par 2016 crop. The blooming period typically begins in February.

    Insufficient pollination is a big variable for the agricultural industry. "It's a critically important factor," said Janie Gatzman, a senior appraiser for American AgCredit, which specializes in financial services to agricultural customers.The threat of an El Nino "wet bloom" is even more striking for almond growers in the Central Valley. In the 2013 crop year, California almond cash receipts improved for the fourth consecutive year as revenue soared to $5.77 billion. Per pound prices rose to $3.21 in 2013 from $2.58 a pound in 2012, according to the California crop report release in 2015.Almond prices are now hovering around $3.30 a pound for premium varieties, said Tom Rogers, an almond farmer in Madera County. That almond price is down roughly $1.75 off the peak of around $5 a pound during last year's harvest.Of course it's tricky to pinpoint lower nut prices specifically to worries of a wet blooming season. There are plenty of global trends also influencing pricing. A slowing world economy, including China, is lowering demand.About 60 to 70 percent of California almonds are shipped internationally. In China, almonds are especially popular in the autumn and winter. Packaged nuts are an appreciated Lunar New Year gift.

    The possibility of under pollination and a sub-par 2016 almond year also alludes to an agricultural ecosystem that increasingly has been moving toward higher margin, permanent crops likes almonds, walnuts and pistachios. California has endured four consecutive years of a drought. Amid low supplies, water prices have swung wildly — from $2,000 per acre foot in the southern part of the Central Valley to around $5 an acre foot in the northern portion , depending on local variablesWith such dramatic changes in water prices, more farmers have incentives to bet their farm and livelihood on higher margin, permanent crops.And high value often means nuts. Total California acreage devoted to four permanent crops alone — almonds, walnuts, pistachios and wine grapes — stands at nearly 2 million acres, an area the size of Lebanon, according to a 2014 trend report on agricultural land and lease values. The report is from the California Chapter of the American Society of Farmer Managers and Rural Appraisers.