Rain clouds rolled in over the Central Valley on Tuesday, casting an ominous shadow on the world’s largest producer of almonds.
It appears wet weather is finally on its way, with rain also in Thursday’s forecast, but what will Mother Nature’s late arrival mean to California almond growers?
Dave Phippen of Ripon’s Traivalle and Phippen, Inc. is a mixed bag. After nearly two months of dry weather, his trees are thirsty and behind schedule.
“Every year, God throws a little slider your way, so you’re always adjusting from what you think is normal,” Phippen said of the weather.
“We would have liked more rain in January, but didn’t get it. Now it looks like rain’s coming the same time as the bloom, and we’ll gleefully accept it. We can’t grow almonds without water.”
However, an abundance of rain could bring about a host of issues, including blossom disease and less bee flight for pollination.
“God has been good to us,” Phippen said. “… I’m not going to sit here and cry that there is rain coming.”
Still, there is some concern in his camp.
Valentine’s Day has become a benchmark at Traivalle and Phippen, Inc. for the same reason women love the holiday — flowers.
If there are flowers on Phippen’s trees by Feb. 14, the crop, he can safely assume, is on schedule.
There were none last week, leading the third-generation grower to believe this may be the latest bloom in recent memory.
Phippen estimates the bloom is about six to seven days behind schedule.
“Farmers go by the calendar. We’re used to certain things happening on certain dates,” he added. “We’re late, that’s all we know. What are the consequences? I don’t know. It depends on the weather during the bloom. Looking forward, all we know is that (the rain) is coming late.”
The world waits with bated breath.
California farmers supply just less than 80 percent of the world’s almonds, with major markets in the United States, North America, Europe, Japan and the Middle East.
China and India are emerging markets.
“We’re pretty much the dominant player in the world market of almonds,” Phippen said of California’s almond growers. “The footprint is just about everywhere on the globe.”
California produced 2 billion pounds of almonds in 2012, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, down from a record 2.03 billion pounds in 2011.
Phippen subscribes to different numbers. He believes the actual count was closer to 1.8 billion, a shortfall that has driven prices up this year.
The factors for decline? Depends on who you ask. Could be the weather. Could be a tree’s natural rest cycle.
“That’s the $64 million question,” Phippen said. “If you say down in a coffee shop with nine almond growers, you’ll get nine different answers.”
Estimates for 2013 will begin in late April or May with a telephone survey.
The first real glimpse at crop size will come in July, when almonds will be counted on the tree.
Harvest is expected to take place in late August or early September.
Until then, almond growers alike will wait on the flowers, keeping one eye on the sky.
“The bloom is exciting because it means the trees have come out of hibernation,” Phippen said. “It’s what the whole world is waiting for.”