Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Almonds and the California Drought (UPDATED)

Update: "How Growers Gamed California’s Drought".
Original post:

We have an interest in both these subjects and the intersection thereof.
From Bloomberg:

Amid a Drought, Cue the Almond Shaming
It takes a gallon of water to produce an almond. That’s one remarkable fact. Here’s another: 82 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, almost all of them in its agricultural heartland, the Central Valley. Here’s another: Almond growers use about 10 percent of the state’s water supply every year. And here’s yet another: California’s mountain snowpack, the main source of the Central Valley’s water, is at 5 percent of its historical average for this time of year.
Couple those remarkable facts with the spectacular rise of the almond and in particular almond milk as a dietary staple for the affluent and health-conscious -- a rise driven in part by the marketing efforts of the Almond Board of California -- and you have the makings of a collision, or a backlash, or something. My Bloomberg colleague Joe Weisenthal tried to get #almondshaming going as a Twitter hashtag Monday, and didn’t quite succeed. But there is definitely some almond shaming going on.
As almond and pistachio grower Brad Gleason complained in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last month:
Article after article in newspapers, magazines and online put nut growers in a bad light related to the drought. The whole equation seems to be reduced to a single number wielded by our critics: It takes one gallon of water to grow one nut.
Gleason argued that compared with other crops, almonds aren’t that thirsty. Growing a single watermelon, he wrote, takes 168 gallons of water. That may be true, but a watermelon is a lot bigger than an almond. If you look at the quantity of water needed to produce a given weight or caloric value of food, almonds and other tree nuts are way up on the charts -- they use less water than beef, but more than chicken or dairy and much more than most fruits and vegetables.

So that isn't a great defense. But Gleason also told the interesting story of how he came to be a nut grower. In the 1980s he grew cotton, as did lots of Central Valley farmers -- cotton was one of California’s biggest cash crops in those days -- but he saw the writing on the wall. Cotton could be grown in many other places around the country and world, and the federal subsidies for water and price supports for cotton that kept the industry going in California seemed unsustainable. So Gleason decided to move to a higher-value crop that could thrive without government support. Almonds fetched a good price, and were easy to store and ship. So that's what Gleason planted. He wasn’t the only one: 


HT: FT Alphaville's Further Reading linkfest post

Definitely related:

Psst, I Think They're Catching On to the Almond Racket

Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters
Trading the California Drought: Almonds and Water
California Drought: Why Farmers Are 'Exporting Water' to China  
"California Almonds Saved by Diverting Water From Veggies"  
A Higher Yielding Alternative to Corn and Wheat: "Agriculture Investors Develop a Taste for Permanent Crops"
Straight Talk on Weather and Climate: "Will California's Drought Bring About $7 Broccoli?"
Projected Price Increases For Foods Affected By the California Drought
"Nut prices, elevated by weather setbacks, 'to stay high'"
El Nino Won't Come Quick Enough To Break the California Drought