Almonds and Water: By the Numbers

Posted August 29th, 2014

California almond growers have long been committed to water efficiency and using responsible agricultural practices to meet global demand for the nutritious nuts that grow on their trees. Nearly 90 percent of our almond farms are family farms1, many operated by multi-generational farmers who live on their land and plan to pass it down to their children. So they understand that if they don’t manage their land and resources responsibly, they risk their family’s way of life.

Recently, the water footprint of almonds has been singled out in a few news reports. Some of these have used misleading or incomplete statistics about the environmental impact and economics of the almond community. It’s time to provide a reality check.

California is experiencing a historic drought that is the worst on record2, and 82 percent of the state is currently experiencing extreme to exceptional drought.3  Almond growers are directly affected by this drought. We share our neighbors concerns, and we’re doing all we can to be responsible water stewards. In fact, for more than 30 years, we’ve been researching and implementing ways to reduce our water footprint, and this has led to dramatically increased water use efficiency.

Here are some additional facts about water use in the almond industry:

  1. Over the past two decades, almond growers have reduced the amount of water they use per pound of almonds by 33%.4  Key strategies, for example, have included the wide adaptation of micro-drip irrigation instead of traditional sprinklers, soil maps, and soil monitoring systems that allow for demand-based irrigation instead of scheduled irrigation. 
  2. While it’s true that more acres of California farmland are being used to grow almonds, that doesn’t tell the full story. That shift toward almonds – and other perennial crops like other nuts and olives – has not led to an increase in water used for farming overall in the state. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, the state’s agricultural water use held steady. By the way, so did urban and environmental use.
  3. Some reports have overstated agriculture’s share of water use in California. Agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s developed water usage in an average year. Fifty percent is comprised by environmental water use, including water in rivers, streams, wetlands and water needed to maintain water quality for agricultural and urban use, and 10 percent is used in urban areas.6 All these types of usage are important for California. 
  4. It takes water to grow almonds. It also takes water to raise all other animal- and plant-based food, as well as to make your make your car, jeans and cell phone. Estimating exactly how much water any particular item takes to produce is extremely difficult, but for a broader perspective, you may appreciate this useful online tool from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey.
  5. Many people don’t know that almond trees produce two crops with the water they use. One is almonds, and the other is their hulls, which are used for livestock feed. A useful by-product includes shells, which are used in co-generation of energy and as livestock bedding.

We’re proud that the water we carefully use goes toward producing nourishing food people need. And we are committed to continual improvement in our agricultural production practices. In the spirit of our research-based approach, we are continuing to fund research to identify breakthroughs in water efficient farming methods and technologies. We look forward to continuing this conversation with you.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to add an online tool from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey to provide an interactive look at how much water it takes to grow different foods.


1. USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture - http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/usv1.pdf
2. http://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/california-facing-worst-drought-record
3. http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/USDMNews.aspx
4. UC Drought Management – Historical Almond ET, see and Goldhamer, David. 2012.  Almond in Group Yield Response to Water. FAO irrigation and Drainage Paper No. 65, P. Steduto, T.C. Hsiao, E. Fereres, and D. Raes, eds. Food and Agricultural Organzation of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, pp. 246-296.
5. California Dept. of Water Resources (DWR) – Water Plan Update, 2013 – Volume 3, Chapter 2: Agricultural Water Use Efficiency (p. 2-2) (URL: http://www.waterplan.water.ca.gov/docs/cwpu2013/2013-prd/Vol3_Ch02_AgWUE_%20PublicReviewDraft_Final_PDFed_co.pdf)
6. PPIC – water use in California - http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1108

 

Category: 
Water