California’s ‘Water Dangerous Man’ Almonds May Be Out of Luck Regardless of Heavy Rains

A slew of intense winter storms battered California and flooded elements of the state. Devastating floods within the among the state’s agricultural areas may trigger catastrophic results on California’s $3 billion strawberry trade, and flooding in Monterey County’s Pajaro has left the native farming trade “in limbo.”

Almonds—maybe California’s most morally divisive crop—have possible not escaped harm from the deluge, regardless of a single nut needing between one and three gallons of water to develop. Native farmers as a substitute warn the upcoming harvest won’t produce sufficient nuts to satisfy demand.

California is the world’s largest producer of the nut, contributing 80% of the globe’s almond provide in 2020. Almonds raked in round $5 billion for California’s farmers in 2021.

Christine Gemperle harvests almonds at Gemperle Farms in central California. | Angie Concepcion

‘The Water Dangerous Man’

Let’s get one factor straight: almonds will not be truly the thirstiest crop on the subject of water utilization. Different staple crops truly use extra water per acre, and barely obtain the scrutiny almonds do, based on Ellen Bruno, a UC Davis agricultural economist. 

“[Almonds] are excessive water customers, within the sense that there is a ton of acreage of almonds all through the state,” stated Bruno. “However on a per acre foundation, they don’t seem to be the largest water guzzlers. It has been form of peculiar how everybody has latched onto almonds as being the water dangerous man.” 

Bruno says different crops like alfalfa—typically used as feed for the dairy trade—are greater water customers. One research even discovered that the dairy trade makes use of anyplace from 433 to 11,110 liters of water to supply a single liter of milk. 

The fixation on almonds stems from the truth that they’re largely grown in California, a state that has brazenly struggled with a years-long drought. Some hyperlink the state’s sprawling agricultural trade to worsening drought situations, inserting blame on perceived water-heavy crops like almonds. 

Almond bushes throughout groundwater recharge at Gemperle Farms in January 2023. | Courtesy Almond Board of California

Heavy Rain Doesn’t Imply Extra Almonds 

Though heavy rains replenished the California water provide and it’s possible excellent news for agriculture total, almond growers say the storms disrupted a important time for his or her crops. 

“Bees are those that pollinate these [almond] bushes, and the crop may be very a lot depending on the motion of pollen from one flower to the subsequent,” stated Christine Gemperle, who runs an almond farm that spans 1,000 acres. “Plenty of rain, numerous wind, no bees flying, presumably low temperatures—these are going to have an effect on what number of nuts truly received pollinated.” 

WATCH: How Will Historic Rainfall Impression California’s Drought?

Almond bushes usually bloom in mid-February, when the tree’s flowers open for a two to 3 week interval. On this essential window, bees pollinate the bushes and little nutlets will then type. By August, most almond bushes in California are prepared to reap. 

Disrupting the fragile pollination cycle may have disastrous results on California’s 2023 crop, and never only for almonds. 

Almond bushes in bloom at Gemperle Farms in central California. | Courtesy Christine Gemperle

“Whenever you lose a planting cycle, it’s not simply, ‘Oh, they’re one or two weeks behind,’” Gemperle stated. “We’re speaking months, an entire cycle of meals that has [been] missed or misplaced.” 

Nonetheless, the California Almond Board says it could be too early to inform how a lot of the almond crop will likely be affected by the intense climate, particularly since some nut varieties might have bloomed after the rainfall. 

“We in all probability received’t have the ability to inform till bushes begin to type nutlets in a month or two,” stated Almond Board spokesperson Rick Kushman. “We’ll get our first actual have a look at the fuller image when the U.S. Division of Agriculture’s Subjective Forecast comes out Might 12.”

Will the Worth of Almonds Go Up?

So will the disrupted almond cycle have an effect on the worth of those nuts? Sure—however probably not in a method that on a regular basis shoppers would discover. 

“As a result of that climate got here at a extremely important stage within the annual manufacturing cycle, it raised quite a lot of questions on whether or not the scale of the crop will likely be affected,” stated Michael Easterbrook, managing director of Stratamarkets, a nut worth indexing firm. “In consequence, costs shot up fairly shortly.” 

Easterbrook estimates that almond wholesale costs went up 25 to 50 % in late February, proper after the primary spate of storms hit California. He says costs have leveled in latest weeks, however attributes the intense climate for the majority worth hike. 

Easterbrook is speaking concerning the bulk wholesale worth for almonds—not the retail worth for, say, a bag of nuts or a carton of almond milk you’d discover on the grocery retailer. As a substitute, almond retail costs might fluctuate primarily based on quite a few components, together with regional pressures or inflation. 

“What occurs on the retail stage is totally unbiased from what occurs within the wholesale market,” Easterbrook stated. “The retailers might resolve to regulate their costs primarily based on what they’re paying in that wholesale market, however they might resolve that they do not wish to.” 

Latest rain storms have additionally incentivized farmers to extend water effectivity practices, in an effort to stop future droughts and ease growers’ capacity to supply large nut crops. Research estimate that almond growers have lowered almond per-acreage water utilization by 33%, and plan to enhance it by one other 20% in two years. 

Central Valley almond farmer Gemperle says she’s irrigated her orchard at the least thrice since January, a follow that helps “recharge” groundwater with out damaging her almond bushes. This primarily saves up water in underground aquifers for future months, when rain could be briefly provide or drought situations return. 

An irrigation canal at Gemperle Farms. | Christine Gemperle

Within the meantime, as Californians get better from hurricane-level winds and extreme flooding, farmers within the Central Valley and throughout California might have to regulate to a brand new local weather regular that accounts for all of the latest excessive climate occasions. 

“We’re studying that is our future, and we have to adapt to it,” Gemperle stated. “We’ve to adapt to unpredictability as a result of the unpredictability is the one factor that is
predictable now.”

Liz Lindqwister might be reached at [email protected]