When things get tough – and the fourth year of a historic drought is certainly tough – it’s natural to look for someone to blame. But finger-pointing rarely solves big problems, and recently there has been an effort to blame farmers – and almonds – for our state’s historic drought.
Based on recent news reports, you might think almonds are taking over most of California’s agricultural land and driving up water use (“State’s ag water supply needs realignment”; Forum, April 5). Actually, almonds use less than 12 percent of irrigated farmland and about 8 percent of the water going for agricultural use. Put another way: about 90 percent of irrigated farmland in California produces other crops. And, according to the Department of Water Resources, the state’s total agricultural water use has declined over the decades.
The governor’s executive order and other conservation measures are serious steps deserving of the attention they’ve drawn. But the ensuing discussion has generated a false accusation that farmers aren’t sacrificing too.
The same attention was not devoted to the announcement that the state will not deliver 80 percent of requested agricultural water this year. That announcement came on the heels of news from the federal government that it will give Central Valley growers zero water for the second year in a row. The University of California, Davis, reports that, in 2014, the drought cost farmers more than $1.5 billion, erasing 17,000 jobs and leaving hundreds of thousands of acres fallow.
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Contrary to the cries of Big Ag, most almond farms are 100 acres or fewer. More than 90 percent are family-owned, often by third- and fourth-generation farmers. Almond growers are active community members whose businesses generate 100,000 jobs. That’s the equivalent to the the North American workforce of General Motors.
Like other business owners, farmers plan ahead to address risks and uncertainty. For decades, the almond-growing community has worked to conserve water, reducing the amount used per pound of almonds by 33 percent. We’ve implemented more efficient irrigation technology and growing techniques, and we’re not stopping there. The Almond Board of California spends more than $2 million a year on environmental and production research to improve water efficiency and other practices.
Californians always solve our biggest problems by working together. Farmers know they’ll need to be part of the solution. But when someone says agriculture has gone untouched by the drought, I say they should come see the state’s fallowed fields and uprooted orchards or talk to an unemployed farmworker.
Richard Waycott is CEO of the Almond Board of California. For more information, visit Almonds.com.