LA Times Meets Almond Growers, Corrects “Profoundly Misleading” Coverage

Posted April 23rd, 2015

In her April 16 commentary, Los Angeles Times writer Robin Abcarian pushed back hard against the wave of California drought media reports unfairly and incorrectly targeting almonds.

Her article headlined “Almonds, the demon of drought? Frustrated growers tell another story,” zeroes in on several original sources of inaccurate information about water used to grow almonds that have been repeated frequently without fact checking. The writer specifically calls out “profoundly misleading” coverage in Mother Jones and others for fixing unwarranted blame on almonds that “has become an article of faith among finger-wagging pundits and environmental activists.”

She relates conversations with several longtime almond growers who are puzzled and taken aback by the scapegoating of almonds, like fourth-generation farmer Jenny Holtermann, who writes a blog as “Almond Girl” about rural life.  “People need to understand that everything you eat takes water,” she said.  “I think farmers need a voice and who better to tell our story than ourselves.”

Wasco grower Greg Wegis talked about the value of almonds compared to other crops in keeping his family’s farm operating. He said the assault on almonds has been “very stressful.”

"I grew up listening to my father and grandfather talk around the dinner table, proud of doing something noble for California, and for America," he tells Abcarian. "Now, we're feeling like a scapegoat for over 30 years of water mismanagement in this state."

Abcarian says what bothers Wegis in particular is the misleading “one gallon/one almond” statistic frequently repeated in media stories. "They're taking the total volume of water used and dividing it by the total pounds of nuts produced, but that does not tell the whole story," Wegis says.

The writer goes on to state that the nut is only a part of the almond.  “The rest — the shell and the hull — are put to efficient agricultural use.  Shells, a hard wood, have all sorts of uses — fireplace logs, animal bedding.  Hulls are used as feed for dairy cattle. So almonds help make milk.”  She adds that tons of dead almond trees are ground up and used as biomass fuel for cogeneration plants to help make electricity and that the trees also absorb carbon dioxide, helping to clean the air.

“What I learned from talking to Wegis is that you really shouldn't pick a fight with an almond farmer about his profligate water habits. He doesn't have any,” Abcarian writes.

“In the last 20 years . . . most almond farmers have worked hard to reduce their (water) consumption, largely with techniques like drip irrigation. Though the number of almond trees has increased more than 60% in that period, water consumption has remained flat,” she says.

To read the full column, head to the LA Times’ website.