The Latest News on Almonds and Water

Posted April 15th, 2015

Here in California we’re in the midst of a historic drought, so all of us are thinking more than usual about how we can be most efficient with our water use. The water required to grow almonds, an important crop in California, has become part of the discussion. Here’s the latest news:

  • The much-proliferated, false claim that “almonds use 10% of California’s water” has been clarified by its original author, Slate reporter Eric Holthaus. We’re really grateful to Eric for doing that. He acknowledges it’s 10% of California’s agricultural water, not total developed water. That said, by our figures, the number is even lower…see next point.
  • Almond Board CEO Richard Waycott contributed an article to the Sacramento Bee pointing out that almonds occupy 12% of California’s irrigated farmland while using only 8% of the state’s agricultural water.* 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 (940,000 total acres) make up less than 12%.
    • Meanwhile, based findings from the California Almond Sustainability Program, we can report that almonds use about 2.79 million acre-feet of water in a year, or just 8% of California’s agricultural (not total) water.
  • Waycott was interviewed by Wired this week, providing perspective on almonds during the drought and what solutions may be necessary in the future.
  • The “whole tree” aspect of growing almonds continues to be lost in the media discussion about crops and water, so that’s important to explain. When considering the water used to grow almond trees, it’s important to consider that the almond kernels we eat are just part of what almond trees produce:
    • There are the hulls, which comprise about 50% of the almond’s weight and are sold as livestock feed, reducing the need to grow other feed crops.
    • Then the shells, which are used as an alternative energy source in co-generation plants and as livestock bedding.
    • And then, of course, the delicious kernels inside the hull and shell; these are the almonds we eat.
  • It’s barely become part of the discussion yet, but in terms “value per gallon of water” used in California, there’s also serving size to consider. A serving of almonds is just an ounce – and for how many other non-nut, whole foods containing protein is that true? For an ounce you get a 160 calories of a nutrient-rich food with a long shelf life -- 6 g plant protein, 4 g fiber, 13 g good fat/1 g sat fat, and an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium.

We hope you’ll continue to follow this blog for the latest news on almonds and water.

* This calculation was based on 2013 almond acreage. With current data now available, almonds currently grow on 13% of California’s irrigated farmland but use only 9% of the state’s agricultural water.

(Last updated June 9, 2015)

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