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Has water scarcity caught up with almonds?

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Are the water restrictions under SGMA clear enough now to realize that we're tapped out on almond acreage?

Has double-digit growth within the California almond industry ended? Will last year's 3.1-billion-pound crop be the largest on record? Is the industry ready to open a new chapter centered around something other than year-over-year record crops?

Every year the news was pretty much the same from the Almond Board of California – predictions of double-digit annual growth as industry insiders talked up new markets and pointed to impressive numbers from the monthly position reports.

Just a few months ago the industry seemed aghast at what was projected in the Subjective Forecast to be a new record – a 3.2-billion-pound almond crop. That came in May before the heat hit and after a near-perfect bloom period.

With the USDA objective forecast of 2.8 billion pounds based on actual tree counts in May and June, the industry is breathing a collective sigh of relief. If receipts don't exceed that figure the industry could turn a financial corner quicker than expected.

Except for January of this year, U.S. almond exports set monthly records every month of the marketing year that runs Aug. 1 through July 31. Though July's numbers were not in when this was written, annual exports were already 30% higher than last year's exports of 1.59 billion pounds. Barring a dismal July, U.S. almond exports for the 2020/21 marketing year will easily top two billion pounds.

The combined efforts of generic marketing by the Almond Board of California and continued new consumer offerings by Blue Diamond Growers, the large almond cooperative based in Sacramento, Calif., continue to raise demand. Aside from its growing list of flavored snack nuts, Blue Diamond now has brownie, cookie, and cake mixes made from almonds, along with protein mixes. It's apparent that consumers are willing to buy more than just "a can a week."

Perhaps it's time to use the bad news of water scarcity and drought to look at the stark reality that almond production – and that of other tree nuts and permanent crops – is not going to continue its unfettered production growth. Drought and the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will see to that.

With projections of upwards of one million acres of farmland needing to come out of production because of water scarcity, will the three billion pound almond crop be the cap on what California can sustainably produce?

Should contentment with three billion pounds of the highest-quality almonds the world can produce be paramount, or do we continue unsustainable growth until there's a crash?

Are the water restrictions under SGMA clear enough now to realize that we're tapped out on almond acreage, and perhaps permanent crops in general? Let's talk about this.

TAGS: Water
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