California almonds

Almond Board helps growers overcome challenges

California’s capitol city hosts countless events and activities each year. One large event that fills many hotels and restaurants near the downtown convention center each December is the Almond Board of California’s annual Almond Conference.

The conference has been in Sacramento for three years as it simply outgrew its Modesto venue, which is where the organization is headquartered.

That’s where I was for several days in December, listening to university researchers talk about studies they’ve done or continue to work on, talking with various industry leaders and continuing to discover more about an industry that cannot seem to shake criticism for all it has achieved.

Years ago almonds got a bad rap for being high in fat. That led to years of industry-funded research efforts, which not only showed the fat content in almonds is healthy for you, but can legally be touted as part of a “heart-healthy” diet.

Challenge met and overcome.

Since then domestic and international almond sales blossomed quite nicely. Almonds surpassed peanuts in consumer popularity in about 2010, according to the USDA.

California almonds still have more challenges.

As the industry grows and farmers plant more almond trees because of their profitable returns those trees are under attack for allegedly using too much water.

A recent LA Times news story wasted little time attacking “water sucking” almond orchards as the reporter went on for hundreds of words in a meandering piece that talked about groundwater pumping in the Central Valley and how people are being impacted by increased pumping.

The premise behind the article pointed the finger at almonds, neglecting to mention that groundwater pumping spiked this year because water regulators shut off surface irrigation deliveries to millions of acres of California farmland.

The longstanding premise of agriculture’s detractors has been that farming uses way too much water. The premise neglects to account for the beneficial uses of that water – food and fiber production, nor does it recognize the water-saving technologies farmers have employed over the years to continue growing that food and fiber.

In classic fashion though, the ABC continues to fund university research and media programs that illustrate the economic benefits of an industry that is also environmentally conscious.

For instance, the board points out how total almond production has doubled while water use declined about 33 percent per pound of nut produced. ABC also funded an economic study by UC Davis that illustrates how much money the almond industry generates for California’s economy.

The board also continues to highlight environmental stewardship practices that promote honeybee health, a necessary component to almond production each year. Those bee health issues will also benefit beekeepers and the countless number of crops reliant on pollination services provided by those beekeepers.

With such a track record the ABC is well-poised to help the almond industry meet future challenges as growers face questions about their water use and world markets demand stricter environmental stewardship practices.

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