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Farmers could pick up some of the economic slack for the rest of the State

by Chris Hinyub, published

If the rains hold, Central Valley orchards are set to produce two bumper crops. Growers, packers and distributers were concerned that a frigid winter and the need to import more pollinators would undermine the golden state's largest agricultural export, the almond. Exporters are breathing sighs of relief as the first indicators of the proportions of this season's almond crop have been analyzed. What's more, experts expect the state's yield of cherries to impress even more.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting California will produce about 1.53 billion pounds of almonds this season. With last year's production at 1.41 billion pounds, almond growers might see close to a 9% increase in yield. The estimated acreage dedicated to almonds has also increased from 720,000 for the 2009 season to 740,000 this year.

Central Valley farmers have successfully kept pace with rising demand for the tree nut. The USDA doesn't see this demand diminishing for the next several years, with their growing popularity being attributed to proven health benefits.

Meanwhile, April showers damaged an estimated 20% of early variety cherries in the southern growing districts, making cherry supplies relatively sparse at the moment. The spring's cooler than normal temperatures have delayed harvest of bing cherries in the northern San Joaquin Valley, where most of the state's cherries are grown.

Even with California's cherry crop off to a slow start, growers believe this could be a record setting year. The ideal growing conditions experienced during bloom has some farmers taking the unusual step of thinning out their trees to promote fruit size.

The trick for Central Valley growers will be harvesting and marketing their produce before cherries in Northwestern states come into season. Farmers are urging marketers to inform retailers that peak season cherries will be available the first three weeks in June. Northwestern growers aren't expected to harvest their peak season crop until mid-June at the earliest.

As markets in Europe and Asia continue to grow, cherry producers in California are looking forward to moving more of their product abroad so as not to glut domestic supplies. Spain, California's largest competitor for cherry sales in Europe, is expected to have a below average yield.

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