Record crop to drive local Almond exports

A record Australian almond harvest is being matched by strong demand from China in the wake of sanctions on US imports.

Ideal growing conditions for Almonds will see the total Australian crop reach 100,000 tonnes for the first time.

This has coincided with a 50 per cent tariff on hulled and unshelled Californian almonds in China, which has been in place since last year. The last Chinese tariffs on Australian almonds were also removed this year under a free trade agreement.

For the reporting period from 1 March to 28 February 2019, total almond exports reached a record 60,895 tonnes (kernel weight equivalent) in 2018/19, up 12 per cent on the previous year.

This was driven by a 20-fold increase in exports to China from 600 tonnes (KWE) in 2017/18 to 11,860 this year. Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan also recorded strong growth, but India maintained its position as the largest buyer of Australian almonds despite a slight fall in volume to 15,155 (KWE).

Australian almonds are exported in shell and as hulled kernels, with India taking the vast majority of the unshelled product.

The pre-harvest forecast for this season was for a crop of 93,000 tonnes but Almond Board of Australia CEO Ross Skinner said the final figure might exceed 100,000 tonnes for the first time. The previous record crop was about 82,000 tonnes.

Skinner said the record crop was the result of a combination of additional almond plantings in the past six years and an incident-free growing season.

“The previous four seasons the crops have plateaued at just over 80,000 tonnes mainly due to hail, frost and wind whereas this season there was very little impact of adverse weather conditions on the crop,” he said.

California produces about 80 per cent of the world’s almonds with Australia the second largest producer at 7 per cent ahead of Spain, Iran and Italy.

A rise in almond consumption and increased plantings led to record global production of 1.3 million tonnes in 2017/18.

Australian almond orchards have grown to a collective 45,000ha with a farmgate value of about $750 million.

Plantings are expected to plateau in a few years at around 50,000ha with an annual production of 150,000 tonnes. About 98 per cent of almonds are grown along the River Murray in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

A lot of the markets in Asia are emerging markets with potential and we’ve got a number of other established markets throughout the world – at the moment we’re delivering to over 50 countries.

Almonds are being used more and more in manufacturing because of the fact that it’s gluten free and because of the uptake of vegan and vegetarian diets the high protein level in almonds is a factor that consumers are looking for.

Almondco represents 85 per cent of Australian growers and processes about 30 per cent of the national almond crop.

Managing Director Brenton Woolston said the amount of almonds arriving for processing was about 12 per cent above initial grower estimates.

He said Almondco’s major markets were Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

“We deal with 160 growers across all the growing regions and from our analysis from the Riverina in New South Wales, Sunraysia and Swan Hill in Victoria and Riverland and Adelaide Plains in South Australia we should eclipse the 100,000 tonnes as an industry for the first time,” Woolston said.

“Growers are pretty happy with their crop yields in 2019, prices are up, driven by international demand for almonds and a lower Aussie dollar.”

The Almond Board of Australia is trialing high and medium density plantings at the Almond Centre of Excellence Orchard in the Riverland.

Six new high-yielding almond varieties developed at the University of Adelaide in South Australia have also been released in Australia in the past three years, four of which are self-fertilising.