Despite the state's four-year drought, almond production continued its steady rise over the last 15 years. The plunge in global demand may impact the trend, according to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor David Doll. Last year Philpott asked Doll how long the almond boom would continue.
"He told me it would only stop 'when the crop stops making money,'" Philpott wrote.
Doll explained that, under normal water supply conditions, the break-even farmer price for almonds is $1.45 per pound. But when water is scarce and farmers pay more for water, the break-even price rises to $2.60 to $2.85 per pound. The Fresno Bee this month reported that almond prices dropped about 20 percent to $2.50 to $2.75 per pound.
Growers are hoping that El Niño will reduce water costs and that the Asian and European appetite for almonds returns to normal, pushing up the almonds' value once again.
Ezra David Romero of Valley Public Radio reported that the strength of the U.S. dollar also reduced buyer interest in California almonds.
"We probably pushed the price up too high," said Darren Rigg of Meridian Growers in Tulare, Calif. "It killed off demand, and people at a certain point, they just don't buy."
In the web version of Romero's story, he used a picture of UC ANR's David Doll in an almond orchard.