California English walnut prices and U.S. almond imports may both reach record highs while pistachio prices already are at historic levels this year due to smaller-than-expected crops and strong export and domestic demand for tree nuts amid continued positive health claims.

Almond prices are up about 10% to 15% from a year ago, walnut prices are up about 10% and pistachio prices are holding at record highs achieved at the end of last year, all because of disappointing crops, said Bobby Tankersley, senior vice-president of procurement and commodity risk management for John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc., which markets the Fisher nut brand. The pecan crop is “disappointing” in the Southeast but “good” in the West with supplies adequate due to a large carryover and prices up slightly, while hazelnut supplies are “normal,” he said.

A recent article in the Capital Press indicated some California growers were receiving more than $2 a lb for walnuts for the first time ever, compared with averages of $1.46 a lb last year and 64c a lb in 2008. Payments from handlers typically begin in December but don’t conclude until spring.

The United States accounts for about 80% of world almond production and 90% of exports, and about 45% of global walnut production and more than 60% of exports, according to data in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s November Tree Nuts: World Markets and Trade report, which focused on almonds and walnuts.

“Global almond production for 2013-14 is forecast lower while consumption is expected to continue rising, drawing stocks down sharply, particularly in the United States,” the U.S.D.A. said. “U.S. production is forecast 2% lower to 839,000 tonnes (1,850 million lbs) as weather problems again reduce output. Yields are forecast down 5% following the lowest kernel weight in 40 years combined with fewer nuts per tree. Exports are forecast to rebound 6% to 615,000 tonnes on rising shipments to China and Europe. As a result of lower available supplies, record imports of 25,000 tonnes are forecast to satisfy expanding consumption.”

Mark Jansen, president and chief executive officer of Blue Diamond Growers, a California almond processing and marketing cooperative owned by half of the state’s growers, noted in an update published on the cooperative’s web site that this year’s almond crop had the “smallest average kernel size the industry has ever handled,” while truly large almonds were scarce. He said the strong sales pace to date was “unsustainable” and “prices will rise to balance supply and demand,” even with the crop coming in slightly above the U.S.D.A. forecast.

In a November market update on its web site, Bill Morecraft, general manager of Blue Diamond Almonds, said, “It appears most markets are buying hand to mouth not wanting to take long-term positions with the current price levels … with no markets being covered past the end of the calendar year.” Still, the crop was “easily over 50% sold,” he said.

“Commitments are strong, running ahead of last year nearly 12%,” he said. The situation points to “a very strong shipment and demand scenario for the start of the 2013 crop year and … for the foreseeable future.”

Data from the U.S.D.A. indicated 2013-14 U.S. almond ending stocks at 79,900 tonnes, down about 45% from both last year and the prior five-year average and the lowest since 60,759 tonnes in 2006-07. Global ending stocks estimated at 100,000 tonnes were down by similar percentages and also the lowest in seven years.