California Expects Record Almond Harvest

By Marc Lifsher    (Los Angeles Times)  July 11, 2012

The fall almond harvest is expected to yield a record 2.1 billion pounds, the result of nearly ideal weather and pollination by millions of healthy honeybees.

SACRAMENTO — California is heading for a record almond harvest this fall.

A combination of nearly ideal weather and millions of healthy, robust honeybees pollinating almond blossoms is expected to yield 2.1 billion pounds of nuts, the biggest crop in history.

The harvest starts in late August in the San Joaquin Valley and continues through October in the Sacramento Valley. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pegs it as 5% above a May forecast and 3% above 2011's record of 2 billion pounds.

California this year reported 780,000 acres of nut-bearing almond trees, compared with 760,000 a year earlier.

Almond growing is a $3-billion-a-year business in the Golden State, the world's largest producer.

A warm and dry February created favorable blooming conditions throughout the Central Valley. That set the stage for a strong pollination effort by about 48 million bees trucked to the orchards from around the state and across the country. The bees search for pollen and nectar, fertilizing the nut-producing flowers as they buzz from tree to tree.

"The bees did good," said Bryan Ashurst, president of the California State Beekeepers Assn. "I think you're just seeing better bees because the guys are getting more conscious about their operations."

For the last few years, California beekeepers have been struggling with calamitous Sudden Colony Collapse Disorder, a somewhat mysterious ailment that wipes out entire hives. Scientists blame the disorder on a number of factors, including mites, malnutrition and fungi. Recent research also points to agricultural pesticides as a major culprit.

But concerted efforts by beekeepers to improve the health of their hives apparently have paid off.