California’s record drought has more than just almonds to blame.
The farms that annually drain 80 per cent of the state’s water supply support only 2 per cent of its economy, according to Bloomberg. California’s agriculture industry is small compared to the rest of the state’s GDP, but it is the country’s biggest.
Farms in the Golden State produce about half the fruit or nuts consumed by Americans, author Steven Johnson explained in a Medium post, and 25 per cent of all food including meat.
Each almond, a single nut, takes one gallon of water to harvest, the New York Times recently revealed. The hashtag #almondshaming briefly trended on Twitter as outrage mounted over almonds’ water consumption.
But each watermelon guzzles about 168 gallons of water and each cantaloupe sucks down 50 gallons, almond farmer Brad Gleason wrote in the Los Angeles Times in a direct response to the New York Times. One head of broccoli takes 35 gallons of water. A single ear of corn? 40 gallons, he added.
Cows, used for both dairy and beef, can slug down upwards of 20 gallons of water per day, according to Iowa State University.
Demand for California produce has led agriculture revenues north of $US46 billion in 2013, according to Bloomberg. Iowa’s farmers made about $US31 billion in 2013, placing them second in the nation.
Those farms are mainly in the Central Valley, which accounts for only 10 per cent of the state’s population and about one per cent of its landmass. They were originally driven to almonds after a drought three decades ago forced them to stop farming cotton, Gleason said.
Their thirst has drained local reservoirs and left at least one town almost completely dry despite it sitting next to a lake while reservoirs in the northern part of the state are near capacity.
Those looking to solve California’s water woes should first look to the country’s food consumption before pointing a salty finger at a field of almond trees.
Farmers may be draining the state’s water, but only because the rest of the country forced their hand.