Report outlines huge impact of California almond industry | Water Right Technologies

Report outlines huge impact of California almond industry

The almond industry is generating about 104,000 jobs and adding about $11 billion to the state’s economy this year, according to report released Tuesday.

The report, commissioned by the Modesto-based Almond Board of California, provides a snapshot of an industry that has gone from successful to wildly successful in the past few years.

It projects a record $7.3 billion in income to growers this year, thanks mainly to strong prices from buyers around the world. The total economic impact swells as processing, trucking, farm supplies and other industry inputs are included, along with spending by these companies’ employees on groceries, clothing and other things in the general economy.

“It’s certainly fair to say that where almonds are grown, we create jobs and we create economic value,” said Richard Waycott, the board’s chief executive officer

California grows about 80 percent of the world’s almonds. About a third of the state’s supply comes from Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties.

The report was compiled by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, based in Davis. Economist Daniel Sumner, who is a co-author and the center’s director, joined Waycott in a telephone news conference from the Almond Board’s annual convention in Sacramento.

Sumner acknowledged that the report reflects a very good year for the industry, with growers getting an average of $3.48 per pound for their nuts. That price was $2.58 just two years ago.

“One thing we know about agriculture is things go up and down,” Sumner said. But he added that much of the spending by the industry, such as on packaging for almond snacks, is fairly steady even as the price per pound fluctuates.

Sumner also noted that some almond orchards have been irrigated with water shifted from lower-value crops during the drought, which started in 2012 and was especially bad for the 2014 growing season.

“Almonds have been very successful at competing with other crops for water, just as they have competed for land,” he said.

Another UC report this year said farmers in general have sharply increased groundwater use to make up for reduced river supplies, raising concerns in some areas about overdrafting.

Waycott said the state’s growers have reduced their water use per pound of almonds by a third over the past 20 years.

Water Right Technologies, based in Escalon, supplies fertilizers and other products that help soil retain what little irrigation might be available.

“Anything you can do to improve the water-holding capacity of the soil or the strength of the trees helps,” co-founder Joseph Witzke said by phone Monday. He was getting ready to head to the three-day almond gathering at the Sacramento Convention Center, where he has a booth.

The company employs seven people, and the owners also have their own almond farm. Witzke said strong demand for the nuts, and uses such as almond milk and flour, have helped the industry thrive.

At another booth is Dean Doerksen, founder and CEO of Central Ag Products in Turlock, which connects almond and walnut growers with processors. He talked by phone Tuesday about how the spending ripples out.

“There are a lot of almond growers buying pickups and tractors and furniture,” he said. The list goes on: barn construction, equipment repair, loan processing, winter pruning and more.

Doerksen praised the Almond Board for spreading the word about the health benefits of the nuts, while also noting the concern about water supplies.

The report does not detail the typical wages for farm and processing plant workers, but Sumner said they “tend to be competitive” with other types of agriculture. He also said the industry is shifting, similar to food production overall, toward more year-round rather than seasonal work.

Waycott said the future looks bright because no other part of the world can compete with California and the sales are balanced among domestic markets and many foreign countries. Almonds are the state’s No. 1 farm export by value.