Loaded almond branch

Loaded almond branch about three months ahead of harvest.

Is the almond cart currently ahead of the water wagon?

What’s with all the new almond orchards being planted during a drought?

There’s a sincere irony in people’s tone of voice when they ask that. It’s not combative; they want to know. The discussion has even moved to those in the agricultural community since they know, if anyone, how much water permanent crops need to survive.

I was recently interviewed on Valley Public Radio in Fresno, Calif. The question came up there too. It also came up during my interview with a university researcher who commented on a new almond orchard on land that has been traditionally planted in row crop rotation.

The irony wasn’t lost on the Sacramento Bee when it published a story under the headline “California almond farmers, lured by high profits to expand orchards, face a drought struggle.”

The article raises the issue of California’s almond explosion in the San Joaquin Valley, where water supplies are no longer reliable due in large part to regulatory issues and the Endangered Species Act. A similar planting explosion is underway in the Sacramento Valley, but water supplies there are slightly better and winter rains tend to be more plentiful than in the south.

Yes, almonds are a popular crop. Credit the Almond Board of California for that. They’ve done the heavy lifting to improve demand for almonds as a healthy snack nut and food ingredient by helping growers consistently turn a profit and handlers, large and small, improve their bottom lines.

Could prices rise?

The question was recently asked by an almond handler about buyer reluctance to spend appreciably more for California almonds under the premise that if supplies turn south while demand is still running northbound, almond prices could be bid up to numbers nobody is willing to pay.

How eager will consumers be to buy snack nuts and pricey boxes of cereal with sliced and diced almonds inside when staples including dairy and meat are also rising rapidly?

The lack of water is the largest kink in the almond supply chain. It’s not just the increase in the number of almond trees, but the boost in production per tree that is raising the water demand. What can the commodity groups do to add voice to California’s need for reliable, sustainable water for agriculture?

The Almond Board of California recently held an environmental stewardship tour aimed at educating state and federal regulators on what the industry is doing to comply with existing law, and how that compliance is impacting growers. Water issues were discussed openly.

Regulators had some good questions, and grower-handler Jim Jasper of Stewart and Jasper had some equally good answers.

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California is in desperate need of new water and new ideas before it’s too late, which could include seriously addressing a sacred cow known as the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws. For those who think “too late” is still decades down the road and that time is on our side, I borrow a phrase attributed to Sarah Palin: “You can see it from here.”

Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette or reach me at [email protected]

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