The world’s most almond harvest, California’s, may have shrunk further this year than has been thought, amid a decline in acreage in the drought-pressed state for the first time in decades.

“There is some uncertainty around the final size” of California’s 2022 almond crop, “and whether it will meet” the US Department of Agriculture forecast of 2.60bn pounds, Australian producer Select Harvests said.

The comments follow the release of a report on the state’s almond orchard area which showed a dip of some 20,000 acres year on year to 1.64m acres, reportedly the first decline in more than 25 years.

This total included too 30,000 acres classified as stressed or abandoned, but viewed in the report, from Land IQ and the Almond Board of California (ABC), as still capable of recovery.

‘May indicate a possible trend’

The decrease, which was echoed too in a cut in new plantings, may yet prove more substantial, given that it was based on data up to August 31, “so it does not reflect any additional removals that may have occurred as the harvest and post-harvest seasons progressed this fall”, said Richard Waycott, the ABC chief executive.

He added that the briefing “may indicate a possible trend towards lower California almond acreage in the year ahead”.

Water access is a key concern for producers in California, of which 99.5% is in drought according to USDA data which show more than 90% of the state in drought since March 2021.

Select Harvests chief executive Paul Thompson said three weeks ago that “we know that there are significant orchards being removed,” in California, “particularly on the west side because… they have zero access to water”.

Shorter season?

Concerns over the size of California’s almond harvest this year have also been stoked by ABC data showing a 7.0% dip year on year to 2.15bn pounds in crop receipts up to November.

And there is a “view that many US hullers are expecting to complete processing in December”, Select Harvests said on Thursday.

In 2021-22, 235m pounds was processed in January and February, taking total California output to the record high of 2.92bn pounds.

Price outlook

However, Select Harvests was cautious over the prospect of California’s dynamics reviving prices from amongst their lowest levels in a decade.

“Market pricing has remained flat,” Mr Thompson said on Thursday, adding that “most customers have acquired their inventory for the Christmas and Chinese new year consumption peak.

“We do not anticipate any positive movement until there is a clearer picture of the US 2023 crop potential post-bloom, and any further acreage removals in mid-February.”

Select Harvests itself was continuing to price its 2022 crop, and made “made no sales commitments” for its 2023 harvest, which it forecasts, at 30,000 tonnes, growing by 750,000 tonnes year on year.

“Buyers are buying on a short horizon as they try to understand the impacts on consumer confidence and demand as inflationary and working capital costs flow through the market,” the group said.

Shares in Select Harvests closed down 2.9% at Aus$4.09 in Sydney, their weakest finish in five years.