Peanut and tree nut growers, from almonds to walnuts expect record crops this fall after an ideal summer.
On Sept. 12, with just 3% of the crop harvested, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated the peanut crop to be 63% larger than last year, for a total of about 5.9 billion pounds, or close to 3 million tons.
Production in Georgia, which grows nearly half of the nation’s peanuts, most of which are used for peanut butter, is set to jump by 595,350 tons above 2011, when bad weather hampered the crop.
“USDA tells us that 76% of the crop is of good or excellent quality,” said Ryan Lepicier, vice president of marketing and communications for the Atlanta-based National Peanut Board.
In 2000, a 700,000-ton crop of almonds was considered large, said Greg Glasser, third-generation owner of Los Angeles-based Torn & Glasser, which processes nuts, dates and dried fruit.
“The estimate for this year’s crop is 2.1 billion pounds, and it’s not enough,” Glasser said.
Increasing demand will continue to push almond prices higher, he said.
Last year’s almond crop weighed in at 1.95 billion pounds, according to the Modesto-based Almond Board of California, with acreage up 1% from 2010.
Despite the prospect of the second-largest California walnut crop, grower and processor Jack Mariani said growers are disappointed.
“We had a really good summer overall, and looking at the trees we were confident it would be better,” said Mariani, co-founder of the Mariani Nut Co., Winters, Calif.
“It turns out the nut set on the trees wasn’t as heavy as we thought.”
Mariani predicted the harvest would start around Sept. 17.
With demand outstripping supply, walnut prices have risen to record-high levels in the past 12 months. While growers are happy, Mariani said most realize that prices over $4 a pound can turn off consumption and discourage large food manufacturers from using walnuts.
After a hot, dry summer that ended with a good soaking from Hurricane Isaac’s tail, pecan growers are ready to “bust loose and get started,” said Duke Lane, chairman of Fort Valley-based Georgia Pecan Growers.
J.W. Christiansen, grower and consultant to the Nut Tree Pecan Co., Albany, Ga., estimates Georgia will produce 115 million to 120 million pounds of pecans this year.
USDA calculated the total 2010-11 pecan production at 293.7 million in-shell pounds, much larger than a typical off-year. Georgia’s share was 102 million pounds, up 36% from 2010.
Record high pecan prices that have driven down consumption for the past three years may finally be moderating, said Paul Joseph, vice president of sales for the South Georgia Pecan Co., Valdosta, Ga.
“There are quite a few nuts in cold storage, and we’re getting indications that Chinese importers are holding onto nuts they bought last year, which will help take some pressure off the market from their side,” he said.
He anticipates pecan prices in the $5.50 to $6 range this year, “which should help retail sales quite a bit.”
Pistachio growers in California, Arizona and New Mexico are anticipating their largest crop in history, said Richard Matoian, executive director of Fresno, Calif.-based American Pistachio Growers.
Matoian expected the harvest, primarily in California, to begin in earnest in mid-September and continue until mid-October.
“The original crop estimate was close to 600 million pounds, but now it looks closer to 550-575 million pounds. Last year we were at 448 million pounds, and the previous year was a record 528 million pounds,” he said.
“While the price point is a little higher compared to other tree nuts, we have tremendous demand domestically and around the world and consumers are still gobbling them up,” Matoian said.