Why Are Almond Growers Uprooting Their Orchards?

Rows upon rows of plants lay flat on the ground, with their brown roots and bone-dry roots spread out on ochre lawn. The aerial images of this scene can be confusing. There are so many toppled forms that it is hard to understand the scale. A viewer may assume that they are looking at uprooted weeds and unwanted shrubs.The plants were not weeds. They were once almond trees that were roughly the same height as a two-story house.These almond trees were found in Snelling in California. It is east of San Jose in Merced County. Local growers love almonds and grew over 223 million pounds of almonds in 2019-2020. The area is now in the grips of a severe drought. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System maintained at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this May was the driest since 127 years. Farmers grew more than 223 million pounds in 2019-2020. Some farmers are considering sending their trees to the big tree farm in the sky.Fowler Brothers Farming worker uses an excavator for placing almond trees in a shredder. Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesGroundexcavators equipped to grip and plough almond trees in seconds can easily rip them from the ground. The plants can be pushed across dry orchards or laid on their backs. They look more like huge, scraggly tumbleweeds.A crew can eat up to 10 to 15 acres per day with the right equipment. This is according to Zach Fowler, Fowler Brothers Farming in California, who explained it to Ryan Valk last year. Ryan Valk is an ag-loving YouTuber, who posts videos under California Farmer. This is equivalent to nearly a thousand trees. Trees from a demolished orchard can be piled into piles and fed trunk-first into grinders. The grinders will then spit out the pieces into huge mounds of woodchips.Most almond trees reach their middle twenties and are usually trimmed after about 20 to 25 years. However, some farmers are taking the time to remove them before they are too old. Bloomberg was recently informed by a Central Valley grower that she plans to remove mature almond trees in the fall before they reach their peak and replace them with younger, more water-efficient varieties.An almond orchard in Central Valley during better times. Steve Proehl/Getty ImagesThis is not the first time that almond growers in the United States have had to sacrifice their famously thirsty crops due to drought. Barry Baker, from the Baker Farming Company, in the Central Valley, said goodbye to nearly 20,000 acres of almond trees. This was around 20% of his total. According to Baker, he knew that it would be difficult to find water for the trees this year. Baker said that it was impossible to find water and Im glad I took them out.Almonds are known for being a notorious guzzler. They are thirstier than other tree crops. According to Wilbur Reil's report on the region's orchards and vine crops, the average orchard gets nine inches of water per month in Solano and Yolo, which is more than 120 miles north of Snelling. When plants slurp in drought, they can cause injury to themselves. To try to sucking water from dry soil can cause dangerous embolisms. This is caused by bubbles of air trapped within the plants xylem. The tissue that acts like straws to help them glug. Fluid can't flow through xylem if it is clogged up with air pockets. Plants that are stopped may become disabled.It can be risky to leave drought-stricken trees untended. Phoebe Gordon is an advisor for orchard crops at the UC Cooperative Extension, whose expertise includes almonds in Madera and Merced.Snelling almond trees uprooted and waiting for the shredder. Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesGordon says that growers have not yet reached out to her because they are considering taking out old orchards. She says that she recalls one person asking her about alternatives to almonds. This was due to the fact that the price of the almond has fallen, which has reduced their value to farmers. Gordon says that when people ask me about alternatives crops, it is usually in relation to soil quality and water quality. She says that an experienced grower would be able to assess a crop's water requirements and encourages growers think carefully about how they will handle the new state regulations regarding groundwater usage, which are due to take effect in 2040. Gordon warns that it is not easy to swap almonds with more drought-tolerant varieties of pistachios. A new orchard can require years of fallow funds before the trees produce crops. Growers may also need new, more expensive equipment.Gordon says that trying to envision the future landscape of California's agriculture is like looking into a mirror. There is a chance that more orchards will be razed in their prime and left behind some visually stunning carnage.