National magazine profiles the California almond industry

Jan 12, 2015

When Mother Jones magazine reporter Tom Philpott toured Central California to gather information for a lengthy profile of the California almond industry, he sought out UC expertise to round out the story.

UC Cooperative Extension advisors Gurreet Brar in Fresno County and David Doll in Merced County were among the sources. The reporter also spoke to Richard Howitt, an agricultural economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.

Much of the article focused upon the industry's growth in recent years, especially in the face of the California drought. Farmers in the Central Valley once grew mostly wheat and cattle. But over time, they have gravitated toward more-lucrative crops.

"It's a normal, natural process driven by market demand," Howitt says. "We grow the stuff that people buy more of when they have more money."

But the shift impacts water use flexibility, the article said.

While farmers can forgo annual crops like tomatoes and melons during droughts, failing to irrigate trees means losing the entire orchard. That leaves many nut and fruit farmers with only one option: groundwater.

Brar told the reporter that the amount of water it takes to produce a pound of almonds has fallen by a third since 1990. But increases in the number of irrigated orchards has off-set those gains.

Doll, author of The Almond Doctor blog, said he believes the "nut boom" is still going strong.

No other region has California's combination of land, climate, infrastructure and research support. "India and China have tried, and failed," Doll said.


By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist