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A billion pounds of California almonds could be stuck in warehouses instead of being exported

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Terry Chea
/
AP Photo
Almonds, still in their green hulls, hang on a tree at an orchard owned by farmer Joe Del Bosque in Firebaugh, Calif., on July 9, 2021.

California produces 80% of the world’s almond supply — of which 70% is exported. But a billion pounds of California almonds could be sitting in warehouses instead of being exported by the start of the July harvest.

The problem is shipping containers. Companies are finding it more lucrative to return them empty instead of loading them with American exports.

Manteca almond grower and shipper Dave Phippen exports 90% of his almonds, but he said he’s been unable to ship. He's had to build extra warehouses for surplus storage, with growers statewide looking at hundreds of millions of pounds on hand.

“It could be 800 [millions] or even a billion pounds, and that’s a significant portion of last year’s crop,” he said. “That starts to ring the alarm bells in the growers’ ears and in the suppliers’ ears.”

Phippen said until the almonds get to the buyers, growers aren’t paid.

“The slower it takes us to get product to a foreign destination, the longer it takes for a grower to become paid,” he said. “The proceeds from last year’s crop come in the next calendar year and the growers use last year’s crop proceeds to produce this year’s crop.”

Phippen noted that this year fertilizer costs have tripled and energy costs have doubled.

He hopes the Ocean Shipping Reform Act now in Congress will force companies to take American exports if they want to bring goods into the U.S.