Here in California we’re in the midst of a historic drought, so all of us are talking more than usual about how we can be most efficient with our water use.
The water required to grow almonds has become part of the discussion – including an alarming untruth that growing almonds uses 10% of California’s water. (It’s actually only 9% of the state’s managed agricultural water, as further detailed below.) In fact, almonds are not a particularly “thirsty” crop. An almond tree uses about the same amount of water as all other California fruit and nut trees.
Below are more facts about the water used to grow almond trees, an important crop in California.
We encourage you also to read about almond trees’ by-product re-use, importance to bee health, greenhouse gas considerations and economic value – as well as, of course, the large body of published almond nutrition research.
ALMONDS + WATER
THE CALIFORNIA ALMOND INDUSTRY IS COMMITTED TO WATER EFFICIENCY
- Though almonds make up approximately 14 percent of the state’s total irrigated farmland and use 9.5 percent of the state’s agricultural (not total) water:
- According to the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, California has about 7.9 million acres of irrigated farmland, which means almonds (1,110,000 total acres) make up 14%.
- Meanwhile, based on findings from the California Almond Sustainability Program, we can report that almonds use about 3.29 million acre-feet of water in a year, or just 9.5% of California’s agricultural (not total) water.
- Through Almond Board of California (ABC), almond farmers have been funding water efficiency research since 1982.
- Since the early 1990s, advanced production practices have helped almond growers improve their water efficiency by 33%, producing more crop per drop.8
- The water almond trees use grows more than just almonds. Almond by-products don’t go to waste. The hulls, the fuzzy green outer covering, feed dairy cows. And shells are used for energy production through cogeneration and as livestock bedding.
AND OUR GROWERS AREN’T STOPPING THERE9
- 83% of growers practice demand-based irrigation, tracking items like soil moisture, tree water status or weather conditions to determine when to irrigate their orchards rather than watering on a predetermined schedule.
- 70% of almond orchards use micro-irrigation systems, decreasing water runoff, putting water directly in the root zone and allowing for precise timing and rate of irrigation.
- 62% of growers use soil maps while designing their irrigation systems to best match the soil characteristics of their orchards for optimal water infiltration and distribution.
ALMONDS + CALIFORNIA
An ideal climate, combined with the Central Valley’s rich soil, water infrastructure, innovative technology and research, makes California the most productive almond-growing region in the world.
- Bloom season doesn’t have a large threat of frost, meaning optimal pollination of delicate almond blossoms.
- Cool, foggy winters provide adequate chilling without damaging trees.
- Warm, dry summers mean perfect weather for almond kernel development and harvest.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Almond Board of California invests over $2 million a year researching production and environmental issues. As for current research projects:
- ABC started funding traditional almond-breeding research in 1974. Over the years, this research has added focus on traits that require less water and can withstand higher salinity.
- Soil can vary significantly; therefore, ABC is funding research to manage irrigation and production practices that can match the different soil types within one orchard.
- Ongoing research will increase irrigation efficiency by improving understanding of complex factors like tree size that impact evapotranspiration (water lost through soil, air and leaves).
CALIFORNIA + WATER
MUCH OF CALIFORNIA’S WATER IS A SHARED AND MANAGED RESOURCE
- For more than 100 years, Californians have been developing water infrastructure to effectively capture and transport surface water for use throughout the year and to store for dry years. While a majority of California’s precipitation falls in the north of the state, it is moved through a network of canals and aqueducts to urban population centers and agricultural land.2
- All Californians, not just those in agriculture, rely on water captured and stored during wet winter months to access in dry summer months.
- With population growth and increased regulatory demands, California’s water resources are more stretched than ever.
CALIFORNIA AGRICULTURE PRODUCES MORE WITH LESS
- Despite population growth and decreased acreage dedicated to agriculture, the production of California agriculture has continually increased.
- In the last 40 years, the value of California agriculture has increased by more than 85%. During that period, the total California crop-applied water use fell by more than 5%, from 31.2 million acre-feet, to 29.6 million acre-feet.5
CALIFORNIA IS THE NUT, FRUIT AND VEGETABLE BASKET OF THE U.S.
- California contributes over 50% of fruits, vegetables and nuts in U.S. agriculture, allowing for a diversity of healthy foods in Americans’ daily diet.
- California produces 100% of the U.S. domestic supply of almonds.
- California’s Mediterranean climate, with its cool wet winters and hot dry summers, offers ideal growing conditions for many diverse crops.
- California’s top ten crops in acreage are hay, almonds, grapes, wheat, corn, rice, walnuts, cotton, tomatoes and pistachios, and they all need water to grow. Combined, they cover 76% of California’s irrigated land.6,7
- Almonds make up approximately 14 percent of the state’s total irrigated farmland and use 9.5 percent of the state’s agricultural (not total) water.
- Read our blog entry on how the water used to grow almonds is in line with many other California crops.
- View this information as a PDF in your browser or right-click to save it (PDF - 1MB).
- Here’s a factsheet on how almond growers are working to be water wise.
- Here’s an infographic with more details on some specific practices growers use to conserve water in the orchard.
- Meet some of our people and get a visual sense of almond sustainability with this video.
- And because value is an important part of the water conversation, learn about how the economic value almonds provide to California: Study: Almond Industry Generates More Than 100,000 California Jobs.
- This blog post debunks a common myth about almonds and water: No, Almonds Don’t Use 10 Percent of California’s Water.
- Know the facts about California almonds, agriculture, and water use with this factsheet [Updated May 2016].
(Last updated May 2016)
1. California Department of Water Resources (DWR), 2014.
2. Public Policy Institute of California, 2011.
3. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 1910-2012.
4. California Department of Finance, 2013.
5. DWR, 2014.
6. National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2014.
7. USDA, 2012.
8. Almond Board of California (ABC), 2014.
9. California Almond Sustainability Program.