This morning we found two letters to the editors of the Modesto Bee from April 2 that express a growing public sentiment, likely to get more pointed as the drought wears on through the summer: Almonds are not good for the Valley; they are good for the very few Valley residents and some people who are not Valley residents who grow them, but they aren't good for us.
The almond industry will spend millions on public relations to persuade public opinion that using a gallon of water to produce on almond is an excellent public investment, but that's the problem: even though the grower "has the right" to the water under his land, this drought is reminding the public that it too has "a right" to groundwater, at least the right to protect it from being exploited by almond growers to the point where neighboring wells run dry, municipal wells run dry or are threatened and entire aquifers collapse.
We are well beyond the capacity of the resources to sustain this level of "development" in the Valley. We know this is true because we can see natural systems collapsing all around and because agribusiness and developers are paying top dollar for flak that vehemently denies the collapse that has been gradually growing for years.
How many acre feet of champagne will be consumed in boardrooms when the federal government agencies declare that the Delta smelt is extinct? Or the San Joaquin Kit fox? Or any of the 15 endangered species that live around or in vernal pools? Or the second extinction of the California condor? -- blj
Letters to the Editor:
Steve Mohasci: Growing almonds provide little benefit for society
Stanislaus County residents are fortunate that established regional manufactures process agricultural products like fruit, vegetables and wine grapes that provide local jobs. For example, wine production in the county accounts for about 30 percent of California production. About 97 percent of the winegrapes processed here are from outside the county. Also, about 70 percent of the fruit and vegetables processed here are from outside the county.
Analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 1990-2013 leads to one conclusion. Almonds generate among the smallest number of direct jobs (farm, crop support and manufacturing). Estimates of direct jobs (based on 100,000 acres) for comparison) and average wages:
▪ Almonds: 4,525 jobs with average wage of $29,466
▪ Wine grapes: 11,278 jobs with average wage of $37,711.
As the drought continues, our groundwater will be used to sustain almond orchards that provide extremely limited social benefit (jobs, wages). Most crops grown in California provide a reasonable balance between social benefits and private benefits (grower profit). But Except for almonds, the private benefits totally overwhelm the social benefits. Almonds are extremely profitable because of the limited processing costs (fewer jobs and lower wages) between the farmgate and the consumer.
Lyn Raible: Almond exports required 490 billion gallons of water; this is nonsense
As I continue to read articles regarding water, almonds and farmers, I am left with the following thoughts. First, I maintain my old-fashioned, quaint view of farmers are as individuals who live near the land on which they farm. I consider companies from outside the community that buy thousands of acres of pastureland, sink hundreds of aquifer-depleting wells and plant tens of thousands of almond trees (or other crops) to be agribusinesses, not farmers. Far as I can tell, they have little regard for the long-term agricultural health of the community or the smaller farmers living within. that community.
Second, it is misleading to compare the new orchards to the water needs of other crops. Many of these orchards did not replace other crops, but they replaced unirrigated pastureland. New wells, new pumping and new demand on a limited system.
Third, almond agribusinesses use a limited water resources to create their crop, two thirds of which is shipped out of the country. According to the California Almond Board, website, 1.28 billion pounds of the 1.85 billion pounds of almonds produced were shipped out to other countries in 2013.
People seem to agree that
It takes a gallon of water to produce an almond. Assuming the almonds are large, There are roughly 384 almonds per pound. That’s 384 gallons per pound. (more if the average almond is medium in size). That means the 1.28 billion pounds of almonds we shipped out of country required over 490 billion gallons of water. I don’t care what the crop is, I don’t want to use 490 billion gallons of water to supply a luxury food to other countries while in the middle of a drought.
Update April 7, 2014:
It takes 4.7 gallons of water to produce one walnut, and .75 gallons of water to produce one pistachio. Alfalfa is a superfood of sorts for cows, and it's in high demand in the Golden State, which leads the country in dairy production and is also a major beef producer. (Fun fact: It takes nearly 700 gallons of water to grow the alfalfa necessary to produce one gallon of milk, and 425 gallons of water to produce 4 ounces of beef.)