California’s almond boom has ramped up water use, consumed wetlands and stressed pollinators
California’s almond boom has ramped up water use, consumed wetlands and stressed pollinators.
A new study using aerial imagery across the state of California has found that converting land to grow almonds between 2007 and 2014 has led to a 27% annual increase in irrigation demands — despite the state’s historic drought.
The conversion of lands to almond orchards was sparked by a rapid growth in demand and rising almond prices.
Consumption of almonds has jumped 200% since 2005 and almond prices rose from about a dollar per pound in 2000 to a peak of around $5 per pound in 2014 according to the study’s author.
Almonds are entirely dependent on domestic honeybees for pollination, and each almond tree has tens of thousands of flowers, she explained.
But instead of it all being former cotton or tomato fields, a lot of the new almond orchards were formerly natural landscapes, including wetlands.
"More than 16,000 acres were converted from land classified as wetlands to almonds."
The work is being presented on Wednesday at a poster session at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver and the research submitted to Nature Publishing’s open access journal, Scientific Reports.
"The next thing we want to tackle is what the increase in almonds will mean for the demand on pollinators," says Watson.
That means a lot of bees from different locations coming to one location and mixing — increasing the chances of diseases spreading.