Video

How California almond growers became 'victims of our own success'

In California, where a whopping 80 per cent of the world’s supply of almonds is produced, the nut has become both profitable and problematic.

Nut has become symbol of water mismanagement in state struggling with drought

In California, where 80 per cent of the world’s supply of almonds is produced, the nut has become both profitable and problematic. 12:59

It's hard to escape the almond.

Over the past decade, the market for the nut has quadrupled, with a current value approaching $5 billion a year in California.

But for the state that produces a whopping 80 per cent of the world's supply, the almond is both profitable and problematic.
Bob Curtis, associate director for agricultural affairs at the Almond Board of California, says growers of the $5 billion crop have become 'victims of our own success.' (CBC)

Bob Curtis, associate director for agricultural affairs at the Almond Board of California, says growers have become "victims of our own success."

That's because California is struggling with severe drought. And almonds have developed a reputation as water hogs of the produce world.

Growing one almond requires about five litres of water, three times what's needed for a strawberry and four times the amount required to grow a grape, according to research from the Watershed Agricultural Council.

'Just doesn't seem right'

But California's decision to supply water to the industry, even as it imposes mandatory statewide cutbacks on cities and towns, has outraged Californians and quickly turned the almond into a symbol of water mismanagement.
'The people where I live were on the verge of running out of water completely,' says Carolee Krieger, founder of the California Water Impact Network. (CBC)

"The people where I live were on the verge of running out of water completely," said Carolee Krieger, founder of the California Water Impact Network, a non-governmental organization focusing on water issues in the state. "It just doesn't seem right to me."

The public backlash against the almond has prompted the board to promote sustainable practices including micro-sprinklers and high-tech systems that calculate water needs precisely.

There is even research underway to develop self-pollinating trees, a development that would reduce the need to ship two million pollinating bees to California every February, a practice that can put an already fragile insect at further risk. 

"Water has always been an important issue in California, and the people who grow almonds are realists," said Curtis. "They know: 'These are the cards that I've been dealt and I will manage them the best way I can.' "

California is struggling with severe drought, and almonds have developed a reputation as water hogs of the produce world. (CBC)

You can watch The National's full documentary on California's almond-production challenges here or by watching Wednesday's program.

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