Prolonged drought in California has hampered major almond production. Frustrated farmers are trying to save their trees with a little watering.
California produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds. U.S. almond production is valued at about $ 6 billion (approximately 54 billion kroner). Now the historic drought is threatening production.
Farmer Joe del Bosque inspects almonds in his garden in the San Joaquin Valley. He doesn’t have enough water to give the trees what they need, so he does what he calls “scarce irrigation”. He gives very little water to his trees.
And even though he left a third of his land in barren land – to store valuable almond water.
He also takes into account the need to cut down many trees earlier than planned – to get enough water for the rest of next year.
– This means we are losing a huge investment, he says.
Shortness of breath
Drought has severely affected many producers. Many are expected to leave their gardens due to water shortages. Water is also very expensive.
Production problems are a major setback for the California-based agricultural industry, which is known for its arid Mediterranean-like climate. Reliable irrigation system has made it the perfect place to grow almonds.
But almond trees need plenty of water throughout the year, and now climate change is increasingly threatening frequent and severe heat waves. Climate change has already made the state warmer and drier on the west coast for the past 30 years, and the trend will continue – researchers point out.
Set for record production
California almond production grew roughly. U.S. Department of Agriculture figures put the figure at 168 million kg in 1995 and a maximum of 1.4 billion kg in 2020.
During this period, the area under almond trees increased from 1958 sq km to 6475 sq km.
In May, the ministry estimated that California’s almond crop will reach a record 1.5 billion kilograms this year. But in July, the estimate was reduced to 1.3 billion kilograms. The reason for the reduced estimate is water scarcity and record heat
Many almond growers are now going through a very difficult and stressful time. Richard Weckett, CEO of Almond Board of California, represents more than 7,600 manufacturers and growers.
Largest export item
Almonds are California’s largest agricultural export product. The industry exports 70 per cent of these stone fruits driven by strong demand from India, East Asia and Europe.
As almond prices soared during the drought in California in 2012-2016, many people invested in hundreds of new square miles of almond trees. The problem is that this planting occurred in areas where there was no reliable water supply.
-David Goldhammer says the increase in almond production occurred at a time when there was practically no increase in water production. He is a water management specialist at the University of California.
Almond production soared at the same time that California announced its second major drought in a decade. So there is talk of a severe drought.
The two most important water reservoirs in the state are only 30 percent and 24 percent full. This has led to a sharp reduction in water supply to farmers. Many farmers have been forced to set aside their land or switch to crops that use less water.
Critics say almond crops are not as sustainable at the current level in California – because they need more water.
Tom Stockley is a board member of the California Water Impact Network – a non-profit group advocating for sustainable water use.
He believes the government should ban the production of almond trees in areas where there is no adequate water supply.
– With drought and heat waves, now as a result of climate change, rapid changes are needed. Otherwise, California will collapse, he says.
Let your toes die intentionally
Stewart & Jasper Orchard, parent almond, observed the effects of water scarcity.
– Growing almonds is no longer so profitable. Jim Jasper says orchards are drying up because farmers don’t have enough money for irrigation.
He says one-third of California’s almond trees are planted in areas with incredible irrigation resources.
– Many will not tolerate drought. Many have stopped watering, allowing the trees to die, and we see it in many places, he says.
Long-term effects are less productive.
– The world simply gets less almonds, he says.