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Almonds: quality at stake due to extreme drought

May 23, 2024 at 12:13 PM , Der AUDITOR
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MADRID/SACRAMENTO. Urgent calls for permission to treat organic crops with pesticides in areas affected by extreme drought in Spain contradict assertions that quality is more important than quantity for almonds. Pricing is also an issue in California, but for quite different reasons.

Exceptions for organic almonds

While rains offset some fears that the 2024/2025 crop would take another hit from the prolonged drought suffered in Spain, tight water supplies remain an issue in eastern Andalusia, where some areas are still suffering from extreme drought. For farmers the situation remains critical in the provinces of Granada, Málaga and Almería as local media report as these areas did not benefit from recent rains. Precipitation, in fact, ranges lower than last year leaving some areas in these provinces confronted with severe drought. This has prompted UPA  Andalusia, a Union of small farmers and ranchers, to demand urgent measures from the Ministry of Agriculture.

These demands not only include financial support and the formation of a Permanent Drought Council but also changes to pest management and the treatment of organic crops. Financial demands comprise CAP payments, feed, forage and water purchases for livestock farms along with subsidies for emergency irrigation and loans as well as support for uprooting and planting nut trees, especially almonds. Alongside this a Permanent Drought Council should assess the losses already incurred by rising feed costs in the livestock sector and propose measures to mitigate their effect. In addition, the Union would like farmers to have exceptional permission to treat organic crops with synthetic products. They will then not sell these products as organic for one year. Another demand is for the Ministry to declare a health alert for big-headed worms and tiger aphids, which would enable certifying bodies to authorise the use of pesticides to a much larger degree.

Yet, such measures would impact the quality of the almonds produced in Spain and confront organic growers with new challenges. The recently formed National Association of Organic Almond Producers (AEPAEC), in fact, highlights that in contrast to California, Spain’s almond production is much smaller but superior in quality meaning that prices need to be set on a totally different basis. While average yields range at 2,500 kg/ha in California, they only reach 110 kg/ha in Spain. The Association further states that the 2023 crop only stood at 80,000 mt at the very most. At present, however, the problem is not only that suppliers in Spain must compete with their US colleagues in the international market but also that domestic market prices are governed by bodies that fail to represent producers. Prices thereby do not even cover production costs. According to AEPAEC market prices should not range below EUR 7.10/kg (USD 7.70/kg) for organic almonds and EUR 5.00/kg (USD 5.00/kg) for conventional almonds. The association intends to appeal against any prices ranging below these thresholds.

Complex pricing in California

With California anticipating a 3-billion-pound crop (1.36 million mt) in 2024/2025 it will, however, be difficult for Spain’s almond producers to drive up prices against international pressure. And yet, pricing is a bit more complex in California at present. Issue is that export demand has remained very strong in recent months with exports ranging well above expectations in April at 176.7 million pounds (80,150 mt). Demand in India is particularly strong in India driven by an expanding middle class with disposable income and a growing appetite for healthy snacks and processed almonds. This has prompted suppliers to lift the prices for the new crop.

 

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price chart, almonds. Mamra, Iran
price chart, almonds, natural 13/14, Largueta
price chart, almonds, blanched, 27/30, California SSR
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