Within California’s almond industry, the sufficiency of water and its efficient use is a constant area of focus. After all, almond trees are permanent crops which cannot survive without water year to year, a fact exacerbated in periods of drought.
It comes down to two choices: go nuts, if you will, worrying over water or do something creative to improve water efficiency.
Almond farmers have chosen the efficiency path. Central Valley farmers produce 80 to 85 percent of the world’s favorite nut, thanks to the perfect climate and growing conditions. But groundwater shortages, lack of water storage and highly regulated water use have increased the challenges over the past couple of decades.
We in the almond industry have made great strides and significant investments in using water efficiently and creatively over the past 50 years. Water sustainability has been a priority since 1973 and scientifically based practices have proven to work for trees and for water supply.
Almond farmers have reduced the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by a third over the last 20 years. Irrigating directly to the roots, eliminating runoff and reducing evaporation have increased efficiency even more.
The nutritious nut grown on 130 million California almond trees is the star of the show, but it’s not alone in providing benefits. The hull is loaded with its own nutrients and sugars, which are used in the critical rationing balance of feeding livestock. The harder shell that surrounds the nut is also valuable as biomass and as bedding to keep cattle dry and clean in wet conditions.
Innovative scientists are finding even more applications for these co-products, including using hull sugars in the fermentation of beer, cider and tea, as well as for feed for honey bees. Experiments using hulls as feed for fly larvae that could be harvested for high-protein chicken feed are looking promising, too. The entire almond industry is driven by a zero-waste policy.
The place where it all stops and starts, though, is with water.
Because of its scarcity, investment by growers in alternative water sources has been necessary. Throughout the state, more than $6.7 million has been invested in 201 water research projects addressing irrigation efficiency, groundwater recharge and water quality.
One example is the recycled water project in Modesto. Growers committed $100,000 to put in pipelines from water treatment plants so that recycled water could flow to their orchards. Previously, water from the treatment plants had been used once then dumped in the San Joaquin River, requiring extensive treatment. Now, the water is delivered via the new pipelines to the agricultural canals where it can be used and reused efficiently.
When water allocations are low, rain unpredictable and groundwater limited, projects like the new recycled pipeline provides a water source farmers can count on.
Those in the almond industry are passionate about their business and committed to the more than 100,000 jobs it provides. Each year, the industry creates gross revenues of $21 billion.
A significant part of this contribution comes from family run farms that are multi-generational in ownership and workforce. We do what we know how to do to help feed the world. When it comes to water, making sure every drop counts is a big part of that mission.
Mike Curry is a board member of the Almond Alliance and a almond huller and sheller with Johnson Farms, a fourth-generation owned and operated almond farm in Denair.