PRODUCTION at Almondco's Riverland facility is expected to almost double by 2026 as construction began last month on a planned expansion.
In the next six years, the co-operative's output is expected to grow from 28,000 tonnes this season to as much as 46,000t, with the new facility to be focused on value-adding. Work has begun on the Renmark site with it expected to be operational by mid-2021.
Among the plans are a world class value-adding almond processing facility, a new specialised sorting room with advanced electronic sorting equipment to double brown kernel processing and also full use and treatment of the site's wastewater.
Almondco managing director Brenton Woolston said the expansion came as the Australian almond industry was experiencing a spike in plantings across all growing regions.
By coincidence, it is also Almondco's 75th year of operation.
He said for the past few years, the crop had the potential to achieve better yields but frost just after flowering or bloom in some of the nation's main almond-growing regions, the Riverina in NSW and Sunraysia, Vic, had "knocked down potential" from the overall crop tonnages.
"The Australian almond industry has been stuck on 80,000t of almond kernels for the past three years," he said.
"Last year there was a significant investment in frost fans that enabled a record 2019 Australian crop.
"We're expecting just over 100,000t of almond kernel, which is a vast increase on the last few seasons for the industry."
Mr Woolston said most of this increase was driven by a number of new plantings in recent years that have come into production. But he said there was also an increase in quality, in-part driven by a focus on orchard hygiene.
He said there had been good research and development of self-fertility in varieties with those benefits starting to be realised, reducing reliance on bee pollination.
Almondco sources product from about 85 per cent of Australia's almond growers and processes about 30pc of the national almond crop.
We're expecting just over 100,000t of almond kernel, which is a vast increase on the last few seasons for the industry.
Mr Woolston said the big concerns going forward were the increasing costs of power and water, with soaring water prices particularly likely to limit any new plantings beyond 2020.
"There has been a planting spike but water will certainly cap future plantings, which is prudent and will enable valuable sustainability insights for all irrigated crops in the Murray-Darling Basin," he said.
Instead, he said some growers may pull out some of their older trees and replace them with new, more efficient varieties, as happened during the Millennium Drought.
RELATED READING: Cracking turn out for Australian almonds forum
Historically, Almondco has split its product more or less evenly between the domestic and export markets.
"We are big supporters of the domestic market but continue to grow our export market every year," Mr Woolston said.
"This year it is probably 60pc export to over 35 key global destinations and 40pc consumed on our domestic market.
"All the new production coming in will be for export."
He said free-trade agreements in China, the Asia Pacific Rim, and even Chile and Peru, were all helping their trade position, with China proving a particularly strong market.
From January 1, there has been a zero tariff on almond exports to China, while the Unites States-Chinese trade war meant increased tariffs on Californian almonds - the dominant global supplier.
"A few years ago the Australian industry were sending 500t to China per season and this year will be more than 20,000t," he said.
"It's become our number one market very quickly."
Australia is ranked second at 7pc on world almond production, while California produces about 80pc of the world's almonds.
- Start the day with all the big news in agriculture. Click here to sign up to receive our daily Stock Journal newsletter.