If your summer travels take you down Interstate 5, take a look at all those newly-planted almond trees on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, in some cases right across the highway from conspicuously dead almond trees. We continue to be puzzled by cropping decisions in this region. One almond grower and agricultural consultant told a reporter that almonds need moisture as much as 5 or 6 feet below the surface in order to grow and develop properly. In a drought, they’re just not going to get that, Peripheral Tunnels or not.
Westlands’ contract with the Bureau of Reclamation makes that clear. Under “Water to Be Made Available and Delivered to the Contractor,” Article 3(b) says “Because the capacity of the Project to deliver Project Water has been constrained in recent years and may be constrained in the future due to many factors including hydrologic conditions and implementation of Federal and State laws, the likelihood of the Contractor actually receiving the amount of Project Water set out in subdivision (a) of this Article in any given Year is uncertain.”
In June, the USDA predicted that California’s almond crop would be smaller this year, with fewer average nuts per tree and the lowest average kernel weight in 40 years. And it turns out that reduced water supplies are only one of several reasons for this. Other factors include a cold winter; a late and quick bloom with short pollination time; high winds in April knocking nuts and branches off trees; and pressure from mites.
The population of bees has dramatically shrunk making it also impossible for the almond trees to bare almonds.