California Is Stuck With a Billion Pounds of Almonds

The state supplies over half of the world's almonds… assuming they can get the shipments out.

Photo: Richard Ross / Getty Images

These days, almonds seem to constantly be in peril. The trees are reliant on bees for pollination, so almonds are susceptible to problems with bee populations. The crops also need large amounts of water, making them susceptible to drought. But now, California's almond industry is reportedly facing an issue that has nothing to do with the environment, but economics: Post-pandemic changes to the global supply chain have left producers struggling to export the almonds they have.

California produces about 80 percent of the world's almond supply, and 70 percent of those almonds are exported for sale, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. But exporting requires shipping containers, and those have been at a premium recently. It's reached a point where demand for containers in Asia was so high that, after dropping off their loads in Southern California, the containers were being sent back to Asia empty instead of taking the time to head north to the Port of Oakland, the primary export spot for almonds.

As third generation farmer and almond grower Scott Phippen quipped to the paper back in April, "You know what the number one export of the United States is over the last few months? Air."

The problem has persisted, and this week, the Los Angeles Times reports that almond exports are down about 13 percent this year, with around 1.3 billion pounds of almonds left undelivered. And California Almonds' May data shows that the uncommitted inventory of almonds was up 52 percent from the same period last year to over 660 million pounds. It's bad news for the state as a whole: Almonds were reportedly California's top agricultural export last year, worth about $4.7 billion.

On the bright side, almonds aren't prone to spoilage — they can apparently last in storage for around two years — but export issues alone aren't almond's only economic threat. Inflation and drought has driven the cost of producing the nuts up at the same time that the average price for the crop has dropped, making almonds less lucrative, too: "We're running into a delivery and cash-flow crisis," Aubrey Bettencourt, chief executive of the Almond Alliance of California, told the Times. "From last September to February, the almond industry lost $2 billion in value — that's a lot of money that's not going into our communities."

Of course, a lack of exports doesn't help the situation. "The big question from customers around the world these days," Phippen was quoted as saying, "is this: When will we get our almonds?"

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