Almonds are Unique in Many Ways, Except One: the Amount of Water They Use

Posted August 10th, 2015

California’s Mediterranean climate makes it the ideal growing region for a diversity of crops – fruits, nuts, vegetables, and more – many of which aren’t grown anywhere else in the United States. According to the USDA, California produces 99% of the nation’s almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwifruit, olives, cling peaches, pistachios, dried plums, pomegranates, sweet rice, and walnuts. These specialty crops and more thrive in California’s climate.

While recent discussion on California’s drought and agriculture has focused on almonds, the fact remains that most California fruit and nut trees use about the same amounts of water.1 Data from the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources describes the water needed to productively grow fruit and nut trees across California’s various growing regions.

As illustrated in the chart below, almond trees and the water needed to grow them are in line with other California fruit and nut trees.

It should be noted that this chart discusses water demand, or evapotranspiration (ET) - the water needed to grow each crop productively. However, because of rain that falls during the growing season, stored soil moisture, and difference in local weather conditions, the amount that California Almond growers report applying to their orchards is lower than depicted, at approximately 36 inches.

California Almond growers have a history of water efficiency. They were early adopters of water-saving micro-irrigation and other technologies that have helped them reduce the amount of water it takes to grow a pound of almonds by 33% since 19942. And now, through continuing investment through the Almond Board of California, they’re fueling the next round of innovation. We look forward to sharing more updates soon.

The chart in this blog entry has been updated on October 2nd to reflect most recent data.

1 Larry Schwankl, et al. Understanding your Orchard's Water Requirements. University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Publication 8212. Feb. 2010.

2 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 Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, pp. 246-296.