By Vicky Boyd, Editor

Despite what appears to be a record crop of 1.33 billion pounds this year, the California almond industry remains upbeat about the market, which is being fueled by strong demand and record shipments.

The 2006 crop, which exceeded earlier forecasts and settled in at 1.1 billion pounds, helped relieve tight supplies and high prices caused by a short 2005 crop, says Doug Youngdahl, president and chief executive officer of Blue Diamond Growers, the world’s largest almond processor.

His comments came during the Sacramento, Calif.-based cooperative’s 97th annual meeting, Nov. 14, in Modesto, Calif.

The average 2006 return to co-op members for nonpareils, the most widely grown almond variety, was $2.30 per pound including quality premiums, says Dave Baker, Blue Diamond director of member relations. That compares to $3.14 per pound in 2005.

The average price for Carmels was $2 per pound including quality premiums, and other varieties netted an average of $1.94 per pound including quality premiums.

Although growers received less per pound in 2006 than they did in 2005, Youngdahl says they typically netted more per acre in 2006 because of better yields.

Baker says it’s too early to predict what growers will receive for the 2007 crop, which the co-op just began marketing, but he remains optimistic.

“The supply is bigger and prices have been lower than last year, but it’s still going to be a good return,” Baker says.

He says he has seen 2-year-old orchards with yields of 600 to 700 pounds per acre and 3-year-old orchards with yields of more than 1,000 pounds per acre--both which he considers exceptional.

Youngdahl says he is encouraged by last year’s rebound in industrywide shipments that has carried over into the 2007-08 marketing year, which began Aug. 1.

Since then, monthly shipments continue to brake records set the previous month. In October, the industry set a new record of 160 million pounds, and Youngdahl says he’s confident that November shipments will exceed that.

“It demonstrates the resiliency of global almond demand,” Youngdahl says.

Nevertheless, he says the California almond industry faces some challenges, including “very small kernel sizes and a dearth of large sizes.”

“It’s difficult for some customers with specific processing techniques or product formulations and recipes for large kernels,” Youngdahl says.

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