Of all the issues that have crossed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk during his first 100 days in office, water might very well be the most complex. How the state manages this precious resource is an urgent concern for residents, businesses, environmentalists and the agricultural sector.
I am an almond grower from Merced County, and we in the California almond community are all rooting for the governor, his fellow policymakers and regulators to succeed in finding viable solutions and common ground.
One of the biggest impediments to progress for far too long has been that those four constituencies – residents, businesses, environmentalists and agriculture – have been cast as antagonists whose interests are exclusive from each other. It doesn’t have to be that way. People don’t always fit into isolated boxes. The California almond industry, for example, is one big community made up of all four of those constituencies – and we’ve shown that it’s possible to make advances in responsible water use.
When the term “residential use” is cited in the water debate, it is usually short hand for people in big cities. Yet we farmers live in California, too. We are residents of cities and towns throughout the Central Valley, and even though most of us are third- or fourth- generation almond growers, we were Californians before we ever decided to become tree farmers. We chose to stay and raise our families here for the same reasons as our more urban neighbors: the sun, the beaches, the mountains, the people, the opportunities.
We are also business owners. Yes, we spend most of our days in orchards, but at night we track shipments and fret about our budgets and cash flow. Water is one of the biggest costs we have, and we’re always trying to figure out how to be more efficient with it.
It has been said that farmers are the original environmentalists. It’s true that whatever crop you grow, you depend on the land and the natural resources available to you. You better use them wisely and responsibly or risk not being able to pass the farm on to future generations.
And of course, we are agriculture. In fact, we’re one of California’s biggest crops. Almonds generate more than $21 billion of economic activity in California and are responsible for more than 100,000 jobs in the state. We’re the only place in the U.S. that can grow almonds, producing 80 percent of the world’s total supply.
So, we see the water debate from every side. Indeed, we are living it. While the governor and lawmakers grapple with the area that they know best – the public policy – we will address it in the realm we know best: the orchard.
The truth is, when it comes to water, almond farmers have been doing more with less for decades. Through higher yields and innovations like super-efficient, micro-irrigation techniques that today are used on nearly 80 percent of almond farms, we have reduced the amount of water it takes to grow each almond by 33 percent in the last 20 years. Yet, we believe we can do even more. Our industry recently pledged to reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds another 20 percent by 2025.
The California almond community is committed to being responsible stewards of water. We invite our fellow residents, businesses, environmentalists and all of agriculture to join us on this journey and work together to solve the water issues that confront the whole state.
Brian Wahlbrink is an almond farmer located in Modesto and a member of the Almond Board of California.