Don Schrack, Staff Writer
Don Schrack, Staff Writer

The California almond industry was a bit tardy with its Independence Day fireworks.

But the orchard pyrotechnics were plenty impressive.

The Golden State’s almond growers are expected to produce 1.95 billion pounds of almonds this season.

That’s nearly 20% bigger than last year’s record crop — and 11% bigger than the preliminary estimate the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service unveiled just two months ago.

The projected volume is a bit of a stunner in that California, which produces more than 80% of the world’s almonds, endured unusually rotten growing conditions during the winter and spring: chilly and wet.

Not good for pollination. But those little bees persevered.

The May estimate was based on telephone calls to nearly 400 almond grower-shippers. The final projection from NASS, released July 6, was calculated after in-field inspections of more than 800 orchards.

Harvesting is expected to begin in August, but don’t expect the record crop to soften prices, according to industry leaders. Global demand continues to exceed supply, they said.

The California sweet potato harvest also will begin in August, perhaps a week or so late because of the lousy spring growing conditions.

Until then, sharp retailers can get some great deals.

Grower-shippers ended up with a mild surplus of the Oriental variety — the purple skin/white flesh sweet potatoes.

“Cartons of the Oriental sweet potatoes were going for $30 last year,” said Sarah Alvernaz, general manager of California Sweet Potato Growers Inc., Livingston.

“Prices are about half that figure this summer.”

There are limited volumes of other varieties too, but not for long.

“I’d say we’ll get right down to the bottom before we have to start digging,” said Darren Barfield, chief operating officer of Livingston-based Quail H Farms LLC.

“We’ll start running out of varieties, but we won’t run out of sweet potatoes.”

Once the harvest begins — late or otherwise — grower-shippers are anticipating the high quality tubers retailers have come to expect.

Turns out the cool, wet spring was just a bump in the road, because July rebounded with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees.

“The hot temperatures really help the sweet potatoes size,” Alvernaz said.

While August may produce limited volumes, another good California crop appears to be on the horizon.

“The first plantings struggled a bit, but we’re catching up,” Barfield said.

“Everything seems to be coming on strong.”

Adding a bit of flavor to the game is a growing demand by processors for California sweet potatoes, Barfield said.

With the processors in the competition, retail buyers would be wise to order early to secure their share of the new crop.

As the 2011 sweet potatoes come on strong, grower-shippers are predicting equally strong prices.

What's your outlook for 2011's California almond and sweet potato crops? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.