California’s 2015 almond acreage is estimated at 1,110,000 acres, up 6% from the 2014 revised acreage of 1,050,000. Of the total acreage for 2015, 890,000 acres were bearing and 220,000 acres were non-bearing. Preliminary bearing acreage for 2016 was estimated at 900,000 acres.
Nonpareil continued to be the leading variety, followed by Monterey, Butte, Carmel, and Padre. Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera were the leading counties. These five counties had 73 percent of the total bearing acreage. Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera were the leading counties. These 5 counties had 73 percent of the total bearing acreage.
Almond orchard grow follows a 20 year trend in which California almond acreage has doubled, matching increasing global demand for heart-healthy, nutrient-dense almonds. At the same time, there are concerns about competition for limited resources in California, raising questions such as: What has this acreage replaced? What are the implications on water use? And what are the implications for California overall?
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According to a recent analysis of almond acreage by Sacramento-based agricultural and environmental consulting firm Land IQ, almond acreage growth over the last 10 to 15 years has replaced both perennial and annual crops. This includes cotton, vineyards, non-irrigated grasslands, alfalfa, grain and hay crops, tomatoes, corn, mixed field crops, irrigated pasture, and more.
Of the almond acreage planted during this time, 96% lies within the Central Valley’s historic irrigated area, most often replacing other irrigated crops. Contrary to recent speculation, only 42,000 acres of growth over the last 10 to 15 years has occurred within previously non-irrigated grasslands.
Some have suggested that the shift towards higher value, permanent crops has led to an increase in agricultural water use. However, according to the California Department of Water Resources, the total amount of water used by agriculture has held steady since 2000, and has actually declined over a longer period of time, largely due to more efficient irrigation management and infrastructure.
“Almonds take up about 14% of the state’s irrigated farmland but uses 9.5% of California’s agricultural water, less than a proportionate share, said Almond Board of California (ABC) President and CEO, Richard Waycott. “Because of the industry’s commitment to research and efficiency, growers use 33% less water to grow a pound of almonds than they did two decades ago.”