SUSTAINABLY SPEAKING, WITH DR. DAN
The Real Deal on Water and Almonds
Since the last drought, the idea that almonds are connected to California water problems has caught on with a significant portion of society in the US and abroad. Now we are in another drought and the hot topic in almond sustainability is, once again, water. Maybe you, like me, have had people ask you about whether almonds are using too much of California’s water. In this article, I am sharing with you how we answer these questions at Blue Diamond Growers , so that you can help amplify the message. The unfortunate number that has stuck with many people is the assertion that it takes a gallon of water to grow an almond. I prefer not to get in a debate about the accuracy of that number, but the reality is that it does take a significant amount of water to irrigate a high-yielding almond orchard. But it is also a reality that the amount it takes varies significantly based on where you are in the state. Almond irrigation is comparable to most other California orchard crops. This week I looked at some University of California data that estimates the difference in seasonal water need (known as evapotranspiration or ET) for an almond orchard in one area may vary as much as 14% from an almond orchard in another area. And that was just within the San Joaquin valley. That same University of California document* suggests that there is less than 10% difference in ET between almonds and walnuts, stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines), olives, prunes, and pistachios grown in California. So, almond irrigation is comparable to other nutritious crops grown in California. In fact, the Almond Board of California estimates that almonds now occupy roughly 20% of irrigated farmland in California but utilize approximately 13% of California water used in agriculture. That is less than a proportionate share.
Also, it is no surprise to our members that approximately 85% of California almond farms are now on micro-irrigation systems. That is nearly twice the rate found in California crops overall. And more efficient production means that it takes 33% less water to grow a pound of almonds than it did 20 years ago. Of course, for every pound of nuts produced, approximately a half pound of shell and as much as two pounds of hull are produced, and these co-products are put to beneficial use as bedding and feed for dairies. In that way, almond production offsets some irrigation which might otherwise go toward dairy feed crops, some of which are “thirsty” crops themselves. In addition to our historic water savings, the Almond Board of California is also deploying resources for growers statewide with the goal of reducing this amount by another 20% by 2025. If you are not already receiving e-mails from the Almond Board about how to take advantage of these efforts in your orchard, be sure to sign up at www.almonds. com/about-us/press-room/sign-up. They have extensive materials available online at www.almonds.com/tools- and-resources/grower-tools/irrigation-tools as well. Finally, a key talking point on responsible water use that we use at Blue Diamond Growers is that more and more of our members are participating in the California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP). The CASP includes a module on Irrigation Management best practices. We can demonstrate to customers, state officials, and other stakeholders that we are using best practices on irrigation by having a large portion of our growers assessed in that module. As a reminder, the Blue Diamond Grower Sustainability Incentive Program pays members for different levels of engagement with CASP.
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