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Costs cripple California's leading crop, some almond growers say game over

California's almond industry crippled by rising costs
California's almond industry crippled by rising costs 03:02

OAKDALE — California almond farms are struggling to pay the bills with low prices for their nuts.

Trinitas Farm, an almond farm in Oakdale, filed for bankruptcy in February due to falling almond prices, rising water rates, and high interest rates making it impossible to keep up.

Almond farmers that CBS13 spoke with agree but said the biggest driving force of this fallout can be summed up in one word: inflation.

"It has now come to the point where I see the end of that coming, of that generational farming," said Bill Van Ryn, who has an almond farm in San Joaquin County.

He said farmers are simply crippled by costs and that is causing some California almond farmers to file for bankruptcy, likely with more to follow.

"In 2021, I paid $1.25 for my diesel fuel," said Van Ryn. "Last year, I paid almost $5."

Van Ryn said that he spends about half a million dollars on fuel every single year and it is easily his biggest cost. He has not considered filing for bankruptcy but is making other cuts.

"Fertilizers, fuels, sprays, parts and all the things that we use to farm with have gone up 30-40% maybe even more over the past year and the price of our product has gone down," Van Ryn said.

He told CBS13 that he has had to make cuts in other ways, like the amount of employees he has. Usually, he has around 30 employees. This year, he cut that down to 12. He said it is not because of minimum wage, but the price of everything else has increased while the price of his product has decreased.

Two years ago, almonds went for about $2.50-$3 a pound. Now, they are selling for $1.35-$1.65 a pound, making it close to impossible to keep up with inflation. Van Ryn said they need to sell for $1.80-$2.00 a pound to make a profit.

"It's inevitable because if you can't bring in enough money for your crops, it doesn't pay for all the bills," Van Ryn said. "We aren't suffering from 10% inflation. We are suffering a lot harder."

Around 80% of the world's almonds are grown in California, but the acreage of the almonds in the state has been on the decline in recent years, falling from 1.65 million acres in 2021 to 1.63 million acres in 2022 and then 1.56 million acres in 2023.

"Going forward, I don't see almond acreage expanding. I see it going down," said Andrew Genasci, executive director for the San Joaquin Farm Bureau.

Genasci told CBS13 that shipping problems in 2020 led to carryover, which led to depressed prices.

"You're looking at well over 100,000 jobs that are tied directly and indirectly into almond marketing and farming," Genasci said.

It is having a domino effect on everyone in the almond business, which generates approximately $19.6 billion in gross revenue for the state every year.

Time will tell what the almond blooms will bring this year as more growers are forced to say game over.

Right now, it is the larger corporate farms filing for bankruptcy, but farmers are concerned about family farms that make up about 90% of the almond orchards in the state.

"Farmers are eternally optimistic," Van Ryn said. "There is always going to be a better day in the weather, but it is becoming very difficult.

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