July 07, 2022

I came across an article from the LA Times this morning about almonds being stuck in port.  This year California almond growers are looking at a 2.8 billion pound harvest to match the 2.9 billion pounds in 2021 and an all-time high of 3.1 billion pounds in 2020.  California produces about 82% percent of the world’s almond supply, and 70% of those almonds are exported for sale.  However, exporting requires shipping containers, and it has reached a point where demand for containers in Asia was so high that after dropping off their loads in Southern California, the containers were being sent back to Asia empty instead of taking the time to head north to the Port of Oakland where the almonds are exported.  That means California’s almond production is exceeding export demands, and 1.3 billion pounds of almonds are sitting unsold in California storehouses.

When I looked online, I found the almond (Prunus amygdalus, syn. Prunus dulcis) is a species of tree native to Iran and surrounding countries.  The almond tree prospers in a moderate Mediterranean climate with cool winter weather (California central valley).  The almond is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree.  The almond is classified with the peach in the subgenus Amygdalus, distinguished from the other subgenera by corrugations on the shell (endocarp) surrounding the seed.  The fruit of the almond is a drupe, consisting of an outer hull and a hard shell with the seed and is not a true nut.  Almonds are sold shelled or unshelled.  Blanched almonds are shelled almonds that have been treated with hot water to soften the seedcoat, which is removed to reveal the white embryo.  Once the almonds are cleaned and processed, they can last in storage for around two years.

Agriculturalists are saying due to high acreage and water demand for cultivating almonds, and need for pesticides, California almond production may not be sustainable.  That is especially so given the persistent drought and heat caused by 21st century climate change and some producers have left.  To grow one almond requires 1.1 gallons of water, and to grow a pound takes 1,900 gal/lb.  Nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and cashews all use roughly the same amount of water, but the demand for almonds has been high.  California is amid a 5 year drought that has everyone blaming the nut industry as farmers shift towards growing more almonds.  The drought has also sent the per pound price of almonds to US$6 a pound, as opposed to US$2 a pound in 2010.  Almond exports are down about 13 percent this year, with around 1.3 billion pounds of almonds left undelivered.  California Almonds’ May data shows that the uncommitted almond inventory was over 660 million pounds, or up 52% over the same period last year.  That is bad news for the state, as almonds were California’s last year’s top agricultural export, worth about $4.7 billion.  Now they cannot seem to get rid of the almonds.

THOUGHTS:  The almond industry has recently been making a push toward sustainability, reportedly cutting water usage by 33% with plans to reach a total 53% reduction by the year 2025.  This effort might not solve the shipping problem, but it will make a difference for California’s drought.  It is hoped more sustainable farming practices and a shift in global distribution trends will relieve California’s almond surplus.  Inflation and drought have driven the cost of producing the nuts up even as the average price has dropped.  The average US farmer feeds 155 people, up from only 26 people in 1960.  Today’s farmer grows twice as much food as their parents using less land, energy, water, and fewer emissions.  Farming has always been a risky business regardless the crop, both financially and physically.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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