Mike Mason, chairman of the Almond Board of California, spoke last week at a public meeting of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture this week to share an almond grower’s perspective on the drought and discuss steps the industry has taken to improve efficiency over the years. Click here to view the webcast.
Mason told the board members that it was time to look past the “hyperbolic attacks” against the almond industry seen in the media since Gov. Brown announced on April 1 mandatory water reduction measures and consider the facts.
Mason refuted claims that “our industry is using an unfair share of water, and even more absurd, claiming almond growers are untouched by the drought. The statistics don’t lie though. Last year drought-related water reductions in California cost farmers $1.5 billion as they fallowed 500,000 acres, tore out orchards and erased 17,000 jobs.”
Mason noted, “Our orchards make up around 12 percent of California’s irrigated farmland and use only eight percent of the state’s agricultural water.”
Relying on research generated through the California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP), Mason told the board that “more than 70 percent of almond orchards use micro-irrigation to conserve water, well above the state average of 54.7 percent. Through these investments, almond growers have been able to reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent over the past two decades.” Overall, the almond industry is using 33% less water than it did 25 years ago.
Mason then turned to the argument that almonds can be grown somewhere else. “Very few places on earth have California’s ideal Mediterranean climate and growing conditions – which is why 80 percent of the world’s almond supply (and virtually all of the almonds consumed in the U.S.) is grown here,” he explained.
The almond industry’s economic impact is significant, he said. “We have created a comparative advantage, which translates into more value, not just for farmers for the state as a whole. The California almond industry contributes $11 billion to the state’s economy and generates more than 100,000 jobs, 97,000 of which are here in the Central Valley alone.
And the health benefits of almonds are important. “We produce a nutritious product for a health conscious society,” Mason said.
The drought requires all sectors to come together, said Mason, and the almond industry plans to be a part of the conversation. “At the end of the day, it takes water to grow all types of crops, and I’m proud to be part of an agricultural community here in California that produces half of the fruits and vegetables eaten in the U.S. And just because farmers have been in California for generations and generations, I hope I’ve been able to communicate today that that doesn’t mean we are set in our ways or resistant to change. We are here at the table, ready to find solutions to weather the drought, not point fingers.”