Weather, water and increasing demand are driving up prices on California nuts.
Jim Zion, managing partner of Meridian Nut Growers, Clovis, Calif., said some almond orchards are off 20%, while pistachios are predicted to be down 10% from last year’s numbers.
What accounts for these drops in production is a mixture of weather-related events in California. Pistachios, for example, require a certain number of chilling hours in order to properly develop, Zion said. An uncharacteristically warm winter caused erratic maturity in trees.
“You’ll look at the tree an wonder if it’s ever going to mature,” Zion said.
At the same time, short water supplies have stressed almond orchards, causing this year’s crop to come in around 1.9 billion pounds, down from the original 2.1 billion estimate. Nevertheless, demand for the nuts remains strong at national levels and in international markets, causing the price for the nuts to spike in response to anticipated crop shortages.
Zion said almonds and pistachios have seen price increases of up to 10%.
“Demand is there, and price is high. The issue is not having product on the shelf. If it’s not on the shelf, people take their dollars and go somewhere else. Most of us are going, ‘We better wait to see what we (actually) have before selling.’”
While high prices might seem like a boon to growers, the financial stress it places on buyers can be worrisome.
“High prices are a huge capital outlay for buyers,” Zion said. “It puts a bigger emphasis on their financial strength.”
Also, when demand spikes, growers must be able to quickly ship their product to potential buyers. Otherwise, buyers will cover the shortage from somewhere else, whether it’s another domestic supplier or international competitors in Iran.
“It worries me,” Zion said. “Capital is tied up, and everything needs to move quickly.”