Monday, May 19, 2014

Sacrificing Everything For The Almonds

California farmers lost flexibility over the last generation:
Almonds and other permanent crops require more water than most row crops. What’s more, almond orchards can’t be idled in a dry year like tomato or cotton fields. Farmers who planted almond trees in recent years have tens of millions of dollars at risk, and find themselves sacrificing other crops in a furious effort to keep their orchards alive. This year’s crop is expected to decline, although it’s not known by how much.

“This crop is one of the more vulnerable ones to the drought,” said California farm economist Vernon Crowder. “Almonds are the big one.”

The plight of California’s almond growers has economic implications across the state. Almonds are California’s third largest farm product, and processors such as Sacramento’s giant Blue Diamond Growers are crossing their fingers and hoping for a decent crop. There’s a political component as well: The drought has intensified century-old rivalries over how water is allocated in California, and the explosion in almond farming has given rise to complaints about overuse.

Some environmentalists say almond farmers and their expanded orchards have contributed mightily to the overtaxing of the state’s fragile water system. They say growers have behaved recklessly by planting permanent crops in areas of the state, particularly south of the Delta, where water supplies are unreliable.

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