California Almond Growers How As Their Nuts Are Stuck In Oakland
David Phippen, an almond producer, didn't need to hear the latest agricultural economist predictions to realize that his business was on the verge of losing its dominant position in the worldwide market, Louis Sahagun reported for the L.A. Times.
Photo Insert: California harvests the tree nut throughout a 500-mile length of farmlands, making almonds the No. 1 California agricultural export in 2021, worth $4.7 billion — three times more than in the 1990s.
During the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020, oceanic carriers learned they could make twice as many annual round trips — and larger business margins — by sending empty containers back to Asia to pick up additional items for export rather than waiting in port here to be filled with his almonds.
According to industry experts, almond shipments are down roughly 13% this year.
The once-dominant almond sector is now in a bind. Approximately 7,600 California farms produce 82% of the world's almonds. However, they are not compensated until their product is delivered in mature markets such as the European Union, China, India, and the United Arab Emirates.
As a result, industry leaders are both anxious and concerned about the likelihood of harvesting 2.8 billion pounds this year, barely short of the 2.9 billion pounds in 2021 and the record 3.1 billion pounds in 2020. This is because around 1.3 billion pounds of unsold almonds remain in storage at processing and packing facilities.
The problem emerges at a time when inflation and a historic drought are driving up the costs of production and water supplies, while the price of almonds has dropped to an all-time low of approximately $2 per pound. After four decades of continuous expansion across 1.6 million acres in California's agricultural Central Valley from Tehama County to southern Fresno County, the industry has taken a sudden turn. The bottleneck at the Port of Oakland, which has historically been the main gateway for Central California dried fruits and nuts heading for international markets, is likely to last for months.
The good news, as growers like to point out, is that the nutritious oval-shaped nuts have a two-year shelf life. Almond growers planted 74,000 acres in the late 1970s, drawn by the product's shelf life and low labor requirements. Today, California harvests the tree nut throughout a 500-mile length of farmlands, making almonds the No. 1 California agricultural export in 2021, worth $4.7 billion — three times more than in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, with the state's agricultural heartland in its third year of drought, farmers must make difficult decisions about abandoning orchards of thirsty permanent crops that require year-round water.
“We’re running into a delivery and cash-flow crisis,” said Aubrey Bettencourt, chief executive of the Almond Alliance of California. “From last September to February, the almond industry lost $2 billion in value — that’s a lot of money that’s not going into our communities.”