If you’ve been following the media conversation about California’s drought recently, you’ve probably seen discussion about how much water agriculture – and almonds specifically – use. One thing you don’t see as much of, though, is discussion about what value almonds provide in return for that water, which is not more than the amount needed to grow many other crops.
Here are seven good reasons that almonds are worth the water used to grow them:
1. Almonds actually get good water “mileage per acre,” if you will. Almonds grow on only 12 percent of the state’s irrigated farmland (USDA Census of Agriculture) but use just eight percent of its agricultural water (California Almond Sustainability Program).
2. California’s Central Valley is one of the very few places on earth with the perfect Mediterranean climate conditions and soils to grow almonds effectively. In fact, more than 80 percent of the world’s commercially grown almonds come from California. This creates a comparative advantage for the state, which in turn creates value.
3. Almond trees contribute to water efficiency by producing two crops in one – the kernel we eat and the hull that is used for livestock feed in place of other feed crops that require water to grow. Even the shells become livestock bedding and sustainable energy from co-generation power plants.
4. Almonds are a nutritional powerhouse.* They’re high in monounsaturated fats, with no cholesterol or sodium, and they are heart healthy. An ounce contains 6 grams of energizing protein and 4 g of filling fiber, along with 12 vitamins and minerals. Naturally gluten free and just 160 calories per ounce, almonds can play a role in managing weight and conditions like diabetes.
5. California produces almost all the commercially grown almonds in the United States, more than any other tree crop. Almost none are imported. So when U.S consumers choose almonds, they share a “buy local” vision that directly supports American jobs and the American economy.
6. Almond trees can play a role in California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gases. The first phase of an ongoing assessment of almond production’s “carbon footprint” by UC-Davis shows that almond production potentially can be carbon neutral or even carbon negative when by-products – like hulls, shells and wood -- are fully utilized for value-added uses such as cattle feed, bedding and energy co-generation, respectively. A paper by UC-Davis researcher Elias Marvinney also notes that using nut hulls, shells and orchard waste biomass for energy production generates significant greenhouse gas offsets. Marvinney says that increased biomass co-products used for energy production would give nut orchards “extremely high potential” to act as a net reducer of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, research shows that per acre greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural areas (like almond orchards) are roughly 60 to 70 times less than that produced in urban regions. Conserving agricultural land from residential, commercial, and industrial use offers climate change mitigation benefits.
7. Almonds directly and positively affect California’s economy at every stage of production. From farming, hulling and shelling, to packaging and trucking, the almond industry as a whole generates 104,000 jobs statewide, according to the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. For context, that is more people than General Motors employs throughout North America.
Almond growers and their employees broaden the economic impact of almonds by spending their hard-earned wages in their communities on housing, goods and services for their families, as well as millions in local, state and federal taxes that support important services like schools and public safety. Importantly, 97,000 of the jobs created by almonds are in the Central Valley, long plagued by high unemployment. In total, the UC study says the almond industry supports $21 billion in gross revenue and contributes $11 billion to California economy.
*Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. A one-ounce handful has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat.