Is It Time to Stop Eating Almonds?

Before you freak out, no, almonds haven’t suddenly been found to be bad for you nutritionally. On the contrary, there are plenty of health benefits to almond consumption, including increasing bone strength, lowering cholesterol and reducing heart attack risk. Unfortunately, those perks don’t negate the precious resources it takes to grow almonds – it takes farmers a gallon of water to produce a single almond, in fact. Multiply that by the handfuls of almonds you eat as a snack, and that’s a whole lot of water!

Sure, lots of agricultural products use ridiculous amounts of water, but as Mother Jones explains, almonds are still easily one of the “thirstiest crops” on the market. The water problem is exacerbated by the fact that most almonds are grown in one of the driest regions around: California’s Central Valley.

Despite the fact that desert conditions are ideal for almonds in most ways, they still require a lot of water. With very little water being pumped into the area, agriculturists instead install wells to pull up groundwater. Many states have laws regulating and restricting this practice, but California is notoriously lax on this issue – and now it’s paying the price. When farmers take groundwater, it hastens the depletion of the state’s essential aquifers. We’re not talking a small amount either – as Slate points out, when all is said and done, 10% of California’s water supply is used on almond production.

While farmers are quick to point out that almond harvests require less water now than they did in the early 1990s, the water saved at this point is hard to champion given how many more almonds are being harvested in general.

It may sound like the solution is to grow almonds somewhere else altogether, particularly somewhere with better access to water, but that hasn’t panned out so far. Other countries, like India and China, have certainly tried to replicate the ideal growing climate for almonds, but haven’t managed to find success. Because California remains the most suitable climate for almonds, it looks like farmers will continue to grow 80% of the world’s almond supply there, water concerns be damned.

Consequently, 70% of the almonds are shipped abroad, with China being a main importer of the product ever since nuts became popular amongst the country’s middle class 10 years ago. That doesn’t diminish Americans’ own role in the almond boom, though. In the past decade, Americans have boosted their own almond consumption by 225%. The average American eats two pounds of almonds – or just over 750 almonds altogether – each year. Beyond its usual nut form, we have an appetite for almonds as almond milk and almond butter, too.

If there’s a positive to the almond growing situation, it’s that, at the present time, most of the almonds are still produced by smaller or mid-sized family farms. Alas, like the economy in general, even that is shifting toward a corporate takeover. Seeing the clear demand and profitability of almonds, private investors have entered the almond game to claim their own share of the roughly $5 billion almond industry.

California’s drought is a top concern for the state, yet almond growers are expanding anyway, planting 50,000 acres of new almond trees. In a typical business approach, it seems like investors are striking while the market is hot, even though the state’s depleting water supply won’t be able to sustain the almond industry in the years ahead. In that sense, you might not even have to make the personal decision to give up almond consumption – at some point, the resources necessary to produce these delicious nuts simply won’t be there.

 

146 comments

Jim V
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thank you

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Shirley P.
Shirley P3 years ago

Fascinating information, I had no idea growing almonds required so much water as described. And to think, our own global warming, due to human activities, may wipe them out in California, where they grow so very well. Consequences, here is a prime example of one which cannot grow without sufficient water and parts of the best of California are now running dry. We, the people, Must become the driving forces and not allow the Big Wealthy Corporations who take over and control so much of our food supply, a healthy and nutritional food supply!

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Mary B.
Mary B3 years ago

How about banning the expansion of almond farms? Especially by corporations which don't have any sense anyway.Do not let the existing groves die from lack of water. This is food, and any time a really BIG operation takes over, whoes only aim is profit, quality goes down, the enviroment suffers and the stuff gets shipped overseas anyway. Small farmers who insist on high quality, increased yield from existing groves will find ways to do even better with less water.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla3 years ago

I am reducing my consumption of almonds because of this... I don't live in the US but I guess it is the same process

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