Like most corn/soy farmers, I'm essentially clueless as to how other crops are grown, especially when it come to irrigated crops. So when I visited Visalia, CA last weekend to talk to young farmers there, it was a true learning experience.
In fact, during one interview (to be shown later on USFR), an almond producer causally mentioned almonds "take about 4 acre-feet of water". The figure slid by me at the time, but on the flight back, I starting thinking "per what?" - bushel, ton, etc?
It turn out it's PER ACRE. Yup - almonds need 4 FEET of water per year, more or less.
Which led me to this semi-helpful graphic.
It turns out almonds are just one of many increasingly thirty, but lucrative crops straining the water supply in CA.
In the past 20 years, the Central Valley has doubled its acreage in almond orchards to nearly 800,000, producing 2 billion pounds a year and exporting 70 percent of the crop, which yields nearly $4 billion in revenue.But almond trees, unlike vegetable crops, can't be taken out of production in dry years. The trees would die. Each acre of almonds needs about 1.3 million gallons of water a year, twice as much as fruits and vegetables, but farmers have planted them without securing sufficient water rights. [More]
This situation looks like a train wreck from here, and that's pretty much what the producers I talked to hinted as well. It looks unlikely that long-term relief will arrive in time or quantity enough to prevent loss of trees (citrus, tree nuts, stone fruits, etc.) since drip irrigation, while efficient, encourages shallow roots which are useless in a drought.
One of the producers also had little sympathy for the almond "speculators" who planted without securing sufficient water rights to cover shortages. He also stated that since the surface water allotment for agriculture this year is ZERO, the rush to drill wells has drillers backed up for a year. His reference to "the longest straw" was explained as the guy with the deepest well will outlast others drawing on the same underground pool of water.
Those supplies are not easily replenished either, so wells are a short-term answer.
I'm looking for a more upbeat ending to this story. Just can't find it