Almond Joy?

Almonds are a booming business in California these days. 82% of the world’s almonds are grown there, and production has more than tripled since the late 90s.   Over the last five years almond prices have nearly doubled, and growers have been abandoning other crops (mainly cotton) to plant almond trees. This year almonds surpassed wine as California’s #2 agricultural product (dairy is #1).

Seventy percent of California’s almond crop is exported every year, primarily to China. Almonds are California’s #1 agricultural export, by far (2 1/2 times greater than wine).  Almonds are a favorite snack food in the emerging world and California is about the only place to get them.  So the California almond industry has been able to continue increasing production while sharply raising prices at the same time.  It seems to be a good time to be the almond business.

But is this sustainable?

California is experiencing the worst drought in its history.  Water is rationed to farms and there is a serious question (drought or no drought) of whether there will be enough water to supply both the cities and the farms.  The same is true of Texas these days and I expect water shortages, and fights over how water is distributed, will be one of the most vital issues we face in the future, making some of the things we spend our time fretting over these days seem petty by comparison.  Is it really wise to use so much of California’s limited water supply to irrigate trees growing snack food for China and India?

And of course 800,000 acres of almond trees in a 400 mile area is unnatural. Almonds require pollination and nature doesn’t provide pollinators for such an unnatural monoculture (and even if it did they likely wouldn’t survive in an ecosystem contaminated with so much industrial agricultural poison).  So every year well over half the honeybee hives in the U.S. (close to 1.5 million hives) are trucked to California to pollinate the almond trees.  That being insufficient to get the job done (and because of the increasing mortality rate in the hives) since 2005 beehives have also been imported from Australia every year to assist.  Just stop and think about that a second.  Hives of honeybees are flown across the Pacific Ocean to pollinate almond trees in California, which are growing almonds that will someday be floated back across the ocean to be eaten in China.

When I was telling Cherie about this, she responded “And they call homesteaders and organic farmers crazy.”

So it seems that these happy days for the California almond industry are dependent upon a diminishing water supply, a diminishing bee population (and the ability to transport them to California for a few weeks every year), and a globalized transportation system dependent upon cheap fossil fuel.

Just another reflection of the strange thing we call American industrial agriculture.

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24 comments on “Almond Joy?

  1. Bob Braxton says:

    nuts

    Like

  2. Jeff says:

    Profit.

    Like

  3. Bill, I’m with Cherie. The big Ag practices can’t be sustained in the form we see today. I don’t think they care as long as money comes in for the current year. When the almond money train dries up big business will move on to the next money maker. Longevity doesn’t really matter to the them.

    You talk about the water issues. Here in Nebraska we have a huge aquifer that resides under our state. The farmers have drilled 200 plus feet deep wells to install pivot irrigation to increase crop production. I just talked with a farmer this last weekend from Western Nebraska and he said that the government is drilling massive wells to pump water into the Republican river which then flows into Kansas. Kansas farmers feel that Nebraska farmers are taking too much water out of the river which belongs to them and that’s the government fix for that. Nebraskan farmers are not too happy about that. Water rights are a going to be a continuous issue in the future no matter what part of the country you live.

    Then there are the states of Colorado, Washington, and Utah that have passed laws against catching rain water. They haven’t made it an issue for home owners …. yet.

    Tell, Cherie that really the only sense in this crazy world comes from homesteading.

    Have a great homesteading day.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I didn’t know that there are water issues in Kansas and Nebraska too. I expect there will be a lot of conflict over water in our future.

      We agree with you about homesteading. But in the eyes of society we’re a little crazy, while buying asparagus from Peru in January (or almonds pollinated in California by Australian honeybees) is perfectly sane.

      Like

  4. Yup. This is a great example of how awry the food supply system is, given it’s great intertwining with the “global economy”. We so take for granted the availability of some of the treats in our diet that as they become mainstream, and thus lower in price (comparatively), we stop thinking about what it takes to grow them. Olive oil is another example of this.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Folks get used to the illusion of cheap prices and that makes it more difficult for people like us to charge a fair price. Even among our relatively informed customers there are some who have no idea what foods are in season when. We’ve gotten used to getting whatever we want, whenever we want it.

      Like

    • Bill says:

      It is indeed. But crazy is considered sane in the world of globalized industrial agriculture. A diversified family farm serving a local community is considered crazy.

      Like

  5. Agreed with Cherie and all of the above. Wow.

    Like

  6. jubilare says:

    😦 I guess I need to learn more about my almonds.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Interestingly, after I posted this I saw a fb post from an urban farm in California saying if you drink almond milk you better start looking for an alternative. We no rain and not enough bees, they were predicting a major crash in the almond market.

      Like

      • jubilare says:

        I can imagine so. I don’t drink almond milk, but almonds are my favorite snack. At least the owner of the grocery where I get them will give me straight answers as to where they come from. That’s a start, at least.

        Like

  7. Bob Braxton says:

    what is the truth about Small Family Farmers and virginia Senate bill 61? I just received a robo-call

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I haven’t heard of it. I just looked up SB 61 and it has nothing to do with farms. We’ve been urging people to call or write their delegate to encourage support for HB 135, The Farm Freedom Act, that would allow small farms and small home-based businesses to sell things made in their kitchens without the requirement of a license and government inspection (the products could only be sold to the end user and would have to be labeled as coming from an uninspected kitchen). Unfortunately it appears the bill didn’t make it out of committee.

      Like

  8. We first started keeping bees last spring and at the local beekeepers meeting a bunch of the more experienced beekeepers were talking about if they were going to ship some of their hives to California or not for the almonds. Apparently it is big business, just like you explained in this post. I had no idea!

    Like

  9. Bob Braxton says:

    we hold this truth to be self-evident
    that almonds
    are created equal

    Like

  10. I just watched a documentary about bees and had no idea they trucked semi’s full of bees around the country (didn’t know they also shipped them around the world!). The California almond growers were spraying pesticides while the bees were there because “they had to stay on schedule” even though it would kill a lot of the bees. And the bee guy just shrugged it off. Freaky weird how they justify what they are doing. Very sad state of affairs.
    I’ll be setting up a micro-climate on my farm to grow a few almond trees to support my almond snacking habit.

    Like

    • Bob Braxton says:

      c’est si bon

      Like

    • Bill says:

      The Vanishing of the Bees? If not, I recommend that one too.
      Trucking bees around like that is definitely weird. I’m sure Monsanto is trying to figure out a way to pollinate with some kind of spray. Or maybe they’ll engineer an almond tree that doesn’t need pollination.

      Like

  11. Yea – I think that’s the one I saw. It also showed the people in China hand pollinating fruit blossoms because they don’t have bees anymore? Great eye opener.
    By the way, a farmer near by just reported all of the bees in her hive were found dead (10000).

    Like

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