Australian almond growers could benefit from frost in California

SEVERE frost in the world’s biggest almond-producing region of California could spell higher global prices, and an opportunity for Australian almonds to fill a possible worldwide shortage. Late last month the mercury hovered under freezing for consecutive nights in one of the US’s biggest agricultural production centres in central California, where 83 per cent of the world’s almonds are grown.

Almond trees are in full bloom in the US, making them vulnerable to frost damage. The bout of bitterly cold weather is feared to have wreaked havoc on California’s almond production at a time of extremely strong global demand.

Paul Thompson, managing director of Australia’s second biggest almond producer Select Harvests, sympathised with Californian almond growers. Mr Thompson said while the almond industry and markets still had to assess the impact of the frosts, “simple supply and demand fundamentals suggest there will be an upward pressure on prices”.

“It’s clear some damage has been done,” he said, adding that if the freezing conditions had an effect on the US’s crop size, global almond prices could surge and there might be an increased reliance on Australian almonds to satisfy booming demand.

Announcing Select Harvests’ half-year results, Mr Thompson said early harvest indications showed that crop quality was good and there was potential for Select Harvests’ 2018 crop to exceed the initial estimate of 15,000 tonnes from the 7487ha of irrigated orchards it owns and leases across Victoria, South Australia and NSW. This year’s crop harvest began two weeks ago and was “progressing well”.

The frosts in California have come at a time when the state is carrying 12.5 per cent less inventory than this time last year. Prices have already jumped to two-year highs.Ross Skinner, Almond Board of Australia chief executive, said early indications of damage “weren’t encouraging”. He said the danger of frost damage would continue for another month. The full impact of the frosts may not be known until crops are harvested in August.