As another severe drought takes its toll in California, some farmers are backing away from one of their most profitable crops: almonds.
For years the nuts have been one of California’s star crops, exported in bulk and used in food products throughout the supermarket. Now, farmers in parched parts of the state are bulldozing thousands of acres’ worth of almond orchards that cannot be irrigated, and dropping plans to plant more as they confront what farmers say could be a hotter, drier future.
The drought, which began last year, has spread across nearly all of the western U.S. Combined with looming restrictions on groundwater usage, it is prompting a reckoning in California’s $6 billion almond industry, which grows about 80% of the world’s supply. The situation is reshaping the state’s food sector, forcing farmers to reassess which crops they will have the water to produce, and where. It is also challenging food-company executives tasked with keeping grocery store shelves filled when reservoirs or wells run dry.
Mark Jansen, chief executive of Blue Diamond Growers, said: “We foresee an end of the unconstrained growth in almond supply.”
The Sacramento-based almond giant has helped propel California’s almonds into pantries nationwide via snack bars, flour and its Almond Breeze milk alternative. But keeping Blue Diamond and other almond processors supplied with nuts means difficult decisions for farmers running short on water this year.