Almonds Use 13% of California's Irrigated Farmland, But Just 9% of California's Agricultural Water

Posted April 13th, 2015

California Almonds Use Just 8% of CA's total waterAlmond OrchardAs we’ve discussed here on the blog before, there is a myth circulating about California almonds -- that growing them requires 10 percent of California’s total developed water. Alarming, right?

Last week, the original author of that claim clarified it. We are grateful to him for that. Slate reporter Eric Holthaus acknowledged via Twitter that it’s actually 10 percent of California’s agricultural water, not total developed water, that almonds require.

That said, by our latest figures, the number is even lower. Though almonds occupy 13 percent of California’s irrigated farmland, they use only 9 percent of the state’s agricultural water – less than their proportionate share. Here’s the breakdown:

  • According to the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, California has about 7.9 million acres of irrigated farmland, which means almonds (1,020,000 total acres) make up less than 13 percent.
  • Meanwhile, based on findings from the California Almond Sustainability Program, we can report that almonds use about 3.03 million acre-feet of water in a year, or just 9 percent of California’s agricultural (not total) water. 

Anyone who’s following the public conversation about the drought knows there are many statistics being bandied about. We feel these are important ones to clarify. The main point for us is that growing almond trees -- with their nutritious almonds, by-product utilization, greenhouse gas considerations and economic value -- is a worthwhile use of 9 percent of California’s agricultural water.  Or even 10 percent, for that matter.

(Last updated June 9, 2015)

Category: 
Water