The results from this year’s Almond Drought Survey demonstrate almond producers’ increased reliance on groundwater resources, as well as the increased amount of salt toxicity cases due to the application of high saline groundwater.
Throughout the state, approximately 62 percent of almond operations utilize surface water for crop irrigation. However, more almond producers are beginning to use groundwater resources to irrigate their crops.
“This survey is saying that there are a lot of growers who are now relying on groundwater or at least supplementing their irrigation with groundwater,” said University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Roger Duncan.
The survey also showed that current groundwater supplies were higher in salinity than recommended throughout the state. Duncan explained how the increasing reliance on groundwater can lead to higher salinity content, and ultimately more cases of salt toxicity in crops.
“I’ve seen more salt damage and salt toxicity symptoms in the area,” said Duncan. “This is because salt naturally occurs in soil and as the groundwater moves through the soil the salt dissolves into the water.”
Salt toxicity symptoms include the burnt, dying appearance of leaves especially on the edges and tips. These symptoms can contribute to the reduced overall growth of trees.
“If things continue like this, we may have to shift the way that we farm our trees, including finding rootstocks that are much more salt tolerant,” concluded Duncan.
Local almond grower Austen Mouzes said that his almond farm is not affected by groundwater resources, since they no longer use flood irrigation to water their crops. However, the drought has prompted a change in the way his family manages the crops overall.
“The drought does alter the way we manage the tree because now we have less water,” said Mouzes, “which obviously determines if the trees are going to survive or not.”
The survey also demonstrated that producers throughout the state plan to or have already removed approximately 38 percent of their total almond acreage as a result of the current drought, lack of water supply, and water quality.
Despite the ongoing drought, a majority of almond producers in the area still have plans to replant acreage that was removed due to the lack of water and expand their almond ground overall.Data from the survey was collected from questionnaires that were sent to a stratified sample of almond growers included in the National Agricultural Statistics Service database. A total of 688 questionnaires were sent to almond growers in early July, however responses were only collected from 458 growers.