California Almonds: Why the Golden State is the Top Producer of this Beloved Snack

Almond orchard in bloom

Did you know?

81% of the entire world’s almonds, 100% of the U.S commercial supply, are grown right here in California. The Central Valley has the optimum climate; you can’t go over the mountains to the coast or too far north or south. The climate has to be just right. You can’t just take your business to another state and start to grow them. Like all the crops grown here, almonds are also exported to about 90 countries world wide and they are a big deal for California agriculture. Almonds are California’s #1 AG export and #4 overall agricultural crop.

In the past 20 years almond growers have reduced the amount of water they use by 33% as an industry. They have done this in many ways using new sophisticated technology that places moisture sensors around the orchard to help a grower only use the amount of water the trees need. This information can then be sent to a computer or even straight to a smart phone and the irrigation schedule can be adjusted accordingly.

Almond blossom 
Bee pollinating almond blossom

On our farm, we use a “pressure bomb.” I will argue any day that flood irrigation is not wasteful, it does many things. It gives the orchard a good DEEP water and helps replenish the groundwater (given proper soil formations are present). Trials are currently being done in the south valley to use orchards as catch basins in sandy soil areas to recharge groundwater. If there isn’t enough rainfall, flood irrigation helps to wash away salts in the soil that can kill the trees.

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While flood irrigation isn’t wasteful, drip and micro sprinklers are more efficient. In 2013 70% of the industry had converted to drip irrigation and they continue to this day. Most common is double line drip, which is a flexible plastic hose that is runs down each row on both sides of the trees over the root zone. The hoses will have different size holes and different spacing to focus a drip of water on the soil over the roots. Growers and nurseries together are also developing more drought tolerant varieties. There are many, many varieties of rootstock and trees to choose from. Water is expensive whether a farmer is buying it from the district, or using electricity or fuel to pump the water from the ground. I don’t know any farmer that wants to waste water and money.

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Different varieties of almonds yield different size nuts and they are harvested at different times. The different sizes are used in different things: packaged as whole almonds for snacking, in candy bars, granola, almond butter, almond “milk” for people with lactose problems, almond flour for people with wheat issues and almond oil. They are used in make-up products, shampoo, and many other things. The hulls and shells aren’t wasted either. They are used for nutritious livestock feed, for animal bedding, garden ground cover, used on dirt roads for dust control, used by co-gen plants for energy, fireplace logs and charcoal briquettes, used in laminate flooring, MDF and OSB lumber products and many other things.

I didn’t write this because I know everything about almonds, I can assure you that I don’t and If I missed something feel free to comment. But I’m sharing this because nobody else has. At the height of the drought here in California almonds were demonized by the media – the same media that spreads the lies about agriculture only being 2% of the economy and uses 80% of the water. Almonds are a big deal for California, so help spread some of the truth. If you want to know more check out the Almond Board of California.

Chris TurnerChris Turner lives in Turlock, California, and works on his girlfriend’s family farm, farming almonds and walnuts, as well as custom spraying and farming. He is in charge of all the equipment and making sure that everything runs on the farm.