The Almond Board of California (ABC) celebrated 50 years of hosting its annual conference on Tuesday, though the mood was dampened by a challenging year for inflation, water supplies and acreage.
“The past year is probably the toughest year we've had as an industry,” said ABC President and CEO Richard Waycott in setting the tone for his annual state of the industry presentation.
Alexi Rodriguez, who directs operations at Campos Brothers Farms and became ABC board chair in August, listed a few of the hurdles, from a record carry-in supply to an “ongoing logistics and supply chain nightmare” and rising interest rates.
“This list just keeps going on and on,” said Rodriguez. “The road ahead is going to be undoubtedly rough. That being said, we are a resilient industry and together we're going to get through it.”
David Magaña, a senior analyst at RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness, offered some hope in the long-term outlook with the rising consumer demand from the growing global middle class. The container shortage is less of a problem from a year ago, he pointed out, and, due to the current drop in consumer demand, logistics will continue to improve, along with ship arrival times.
Last week ABC released the final estimate for almond acreage, which showed a decline for the first time in a quarter century owing to a plummet in nonbearing acres. Total standing acreage on Aug. 31 was 1.64 million acres, down by about 20,000 acres from last year, according to a Land IQ report for ABC. Bearing acres increased slightly while non-bearing plummeted. The estimate classified 30,000 acres of the standing acreage as stressed or abandoned, with the potential to still recover.
Carry-in, meanwhile, reached a record 837 million pounds in August, though shipping has ramped up to historic highs as the industry tackles the issue.
Exports have been flat or seen slight improvements for most regions, while the Asian Pacific region was down slightly. India is the fastest growing market, trailing from last year but maintaining the top position for the fourth year running. Spain and China have rounded out the top three for several years now. Yet the United Arab Emirates has supplanted Germany for fourth place.
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Aubrey Bettencourt, in summing up her first year as president and CEO of the Almond Alliance of California, described almonds as a powerhouse on the international stage. She explained how ABC develops the technical expertise and data while the alliance translates that into policy and regulatory solutions.
Amid a port congestion crisis, the alliance negotiated new shipping contracts with five major ocean carriers to move product more quickly and be less reliant on the Port of Oakland and government agencies for assistance.
With the ongoing water challenges, Bettencourt announced a new partnership with Western United Dairies and the Department of Water Resources to roll out a drought relief program this week called Land Flex. It will provide farmers with critical tools as the state implements the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), with the aim of helping “our farmers to keep farming and start long-term planning for post-SGMA compliance.”
Bettencourt is also focused on getting federal reauthorizations for water infrastructure spending, while putting existing infrastructure dollars to use. The alliance has expanded its lobbying team recently to tackle the Farm Bill, with specialty crops in mind.
“I want to go after school lunches,” she said, in describing the alliance’s pursuit of nutrition provisions in the bill. “We deserve to be in there, and we have an opportunity to move a lot of product.”
Bettencourt concluded: “We are not done as an industry, and we have a lot of room to grow.”
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