Are almonds "the center of a nefarious plot to suck California dry?" asks the publication Mother Jones, which has been reporting regularly on the possibility of a Southwest megadrought and the problem with so much California water going to agriculture.
In its April 15 edition, the magazine notes that California's drought-stricken Central Valley produces 80 percent of the world's almonds, sucking up almost 10 percent of the state's agricultural water use — more than the entire population of Los Angeles and San Francisco uses. Each nut takes a gallon to produce, says Mother Jones.
Almonds bring in $11 billion annually to the state's economy. Two-thirds of the almond and pistachio crops are sent overseas. Nut production is growing (pistachio acreage has grown 118 percent in the last decade), while alfalfa and cotton production are shrinking. Reason: profitability. Almonds net the farmer $1431 per acre, and pistachios bring $3519.
But, as in almost everything else, the lucre is raked in by a favored few. Manulife Financial, the Canadian investment firm, owns 24,000 acres of land producing almonds and pistachios. TIAA-CREF, the big retirement fund, controls a large part of the market, as does Terrapin Fabbri Management.
In an earlier edition, Mother Jones told how Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick own more than 70,000 acres of almonds and pistachios. The Resnicks say they are the world's largest supplier of the nuts.