Some straight talk for Mr. Del Bosque

I am among the almond blamers, and I am happy to explain my reasons for pointing at almonds (again). As always, I find that greater precision in speech would make additional explanations nearly unnecessary. Mr. Del Bosque says:

A smart farmer is going to pick the crops the market wants. And every time someone buys food in the store, they’re telling us what we should be planting.”

What consumers are saying is: almonds. Plant almonds.

That isn’t exactly the dynamic. What is happening is that consumers on the other side of the world are saying “we’ll eat a relatively infinite number of almonds” and growers here are still, in this drought, planting almond acreage with no plans of slowing. Urban Californians feel the disconnect between being told they should conserve at home when almond growers are expanding their water demand. Savvy urban Californians may object to the subsidence caused by pumping to protect permanent crops or to our salmon being cooked in our rivers. But they are not personally hypocrites for demanding 1.2M acres of almonds and also resenting the water those trees use. Other people are demanding those almonds and Californians are noticing that 1.2M acres of almonds has pushed our water system too far.

The author “suggested that almond growers are partly to blame. They have lost control of their own narrative.” The problem isn’t the narrative. The problem is the actual facts. 1.2M acres of almonds times 4af/a means 4.8maf per year and even in California, that is a lot of water. That’s more than 10% of our developed supply. Groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley this year could be about that much. It is about half as much as all the cities in the state use together. One single (arguably frivolous – they are just a pleasant snack) use of that much water makes a neat target.

Again:

Brown’s questions, said Del Bosque, were pointed.

“The governor said, ‘Well, why are they planting all these almond trees?’

“I said, ‘Governor, because there is such a demand for almonds.’ That’s it. Plain and simple.”

Right. But this isn’t Californian demand. Californians know, on some level, that they are paying environmental costs of growing 900,000 more acres of almonds than we eat so that people on the other side of the world can have cheaper snacks.

Last:

Picking on almond farmers might be all the rage, but it will do nothing to solve the state’s water shortage.

Pansy-ass measures, like my suggestion for a moratorium on new plantings, wouldn’t solve the state’s water shortage. But if no almonds were watered next year, it genuinely would mean an end to the overdraft of San Joaquin Valley groundwater. The state’s almond plantings use an entire Shasta Dam’s worth of water every year. Taunting almond farmers won’t do much, but actually putting an end to exporting almonds would free up a huge block of real water.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Some straight talk for Mr. Del Bosque

  1. Steve Bloom

    Well, can’t do that (Commerce Clause), but could limit surface water use (and further subdivide by crop category to ensure diversity) while barring unsustainable groundwater use. Gov/leg would never do such a thing, but I actually think voters might go for it.

  2. onthepublicrecord

    I also think the voters would go for it. I think one more dry year would be enough to make an initiative on the 2016 ballot have a real chance of passing. Either that or if an overpass in the SJV collapses from subsidence.

    You could grow all the almonds that Californians (and Americans) want on a couple hundred thousand acres.

  3. Morgan

    Thank you for this steady-minded response to this almond-farmer propaganda article in the LA Times. It was a lot more rational that how I felt when reading the article.

  4. Despite the ardor of free market ideologues, using a fictive “market” as though it’s the final determinant of the right thing to do has horrible consequences, not the least of which is framing costs only in terms of an entrepreneur’s gains or losses. Poisoning and depleting public resources for private gain is rarely accounted for when toting up the gains and losses of corporate agriculture.

  5. clew

    I ran across an account of a military/diplomatic posting to Greece in 1944; the author was struck by the almond trees that even small farms had, even after the wars, some of them growing wild.

    But when I look for “greek almonds” now the first page of results only talks about wedding favors, none seemingly grown in Greece. Which could surely use a piece of the export market just now.