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California Dreaming: The Issue with Almond Production 

We all want to hit the jackpot when it comes to increasing production. But how desirable is this really, when this increase is not sustainable? 

The US Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) is estimating that 2024 almond yields in California significantly surpass 2023 with a rate of 21%.This past spring, the availability of rain ensured the blooming potential of almonds across the state of California. Let’s dive into what would happen if there was no such availability.

Water as a Scarce Resource 

According to the California Department of food and agriculture, almond acres have grown from 640,000 to 1,640,000 in the last 17 years. Knowing that California has approximately 43 million acre-feet of water supply, it is estimated that agriculture uses 80% of it. Considering the growth of almond acres, the almond production uses approximately 11% of the total California water supply. Then one must wonder how sustainable it is to maintain a growing production of almonds, consuming this much water.

A March 2024 study by Anna Boser et al. revealed that the crop type is the major influence when dictating the agriculture water consumption in California. It was said that 93% of water consumption can be alleviated by changing crops from fruits and vegetables to less popular ones such as grains and hay. Almonds were found to be one of the major consumers, approximately consuming 715 mm a year. Improving irrigation efficiency was found to be useful, with a potential of 11% consumption reduction in water. 

What’s the way out? 

Whether California starts reducing their agricultural water consumption, or whether drought problems emerge in the future due to lacking groundwater supply, it is important to see what we can control at an individual level. Regenerative agriculture practices are promising, as they result in increasing organic matter in the soil. Increasing organic matter by only 1% results in 20,000 - 25,000 gallons of water holding capacity per acre! So, how can we achieve this? 

A 2018-2019 observation of 16 almond orchids in California says it all! Half of these orchids were regenerative and half of them were conventional. A yearly observation revealed that the regenerative ones showed better physical, biological and chemical soil properties. To put emphasis on water infiltration, regenerative orchids water infiltration was 6 times better than conventional. This resulted in higher profitability and more resistance to external conditions with better soil resilience. 

So; nutrient management has an important role in mitigating the effects of drought stress and reducing water usage in plants.

  • Nitrogen: Alleviates the negative impacts of reduced uptake during drought.

  • Phosphorus: Improves plant resilience with seed priming.

  • Potassium supplementation: Maintains essential physiological processes under stress conditions.

  • Calcium: Aids in recovery by restoring nutrient balance. 

  • Magnesium: Enhances root growth and nutrient uptake.

  • Zinc: Promotes healthy root development for improved drought resistance. 

  • Boron: Supports reproductive processes, 

  • Copper: Mitigate drought-induced symptoms. 

  • Silicon: Improves water use efficiency and reduces oxidative stress. 

Overall, strategic nutrient management is a valuable tool for enhancing plant tolerance to drought and optimizing water usage.

Want to contribute to this discussion? 

Check out our Reddit discussion to share your ideas and learn from the experience of others! 


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