The market for nuts including walnuts broadly behaves like a commodities market. Anticipated future trends impact near-term pricing. As the weather trend known as El Nino rolls out in the Northern Hemisphere and dumps rain, there has been growing talk an El Nino-impacted "wet bloom" could yield a sub-par 2016 crop. The blooming period typically begins in February.
At the surface, bee activity might appear insignificant. But insufficient pollination is a big variable for the agricultural industry. "It's a critically important factor," said Janie Gatzman, a senior appraiser for American AgCredit, which specializes in financial services to agricultural customers.
"If we get rain during the entire bloom period, pollination will be very poor," said Gatzman, who is also an almond farmer. "As an appraiser, I wonder how that will impact orchard values in 2016."
The threat of an El Nino "wet bloom" is even more striking for almond growers in the Central Valley.
In the 2013 crop year, California almond cash receipts improved for the fourth consecutive year as revenue soared to $5.77 billion. Per pound prices rose to $3.21 in 2013 from $2.58 a pound in 2012, according to the California crop report release in 2015.
Almond prices are now hovering around $3.30 a pound for premium varieties, said Tom Rogers, an almond farmer in Madera County. That almond price is down roughly $1.75 off the peak of around $5 a pound during last year's harvest.
In California — where more than a third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the nation's fruits and nuts are produced — almond buyers are in a holding pattern, not filling inventory just yet until the market reveals its hand a bit more.
"I'm concerned (about a possible wet bloom) but not worrying until it gets here," said Rogers, a third-generation California farmer. He has weathered previous El Ninos with his brother, including the last one in 1997-98.
Of course it's tricky to pinpoint lower nut prices specifically to worries of a wet blooming season. There are plenty of global trends also influencing pricing. A slowing world economy, including China, is lowering demand.
About 60 to 70 percent of California almonds are shipped internationally. In China, almonds are especially popular in the autumn and winter. Packaged nuts are an appreciated Lunar New Year gift.
"Our shipments to Europe and China are way off," Rogers said.
Read MoreHow China is changing your dinner plate
The possibility of under pollination and a sub-par 2016 almond year also alludes to an agricultural ecosystem that increasingly has been moving toward higher margin, permanent crops likes almonds, walnuts and pistachios. Permanent crops mean you can't idle farm land during dry years. That's the opposite of annual crops like rice and tomatoes.