Well Nuts. Almonds at Risk

In conversation the other day, somebody told about their increasing reliance on almond flour as a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.

I suggested they stock up and begin looking for alternatives. The cost of almonds is likely to spike as availability tumbles. Why?

First a couple of factoids about the elongated elliptical “fruit”. For starters, it is not a technically a nut at all, but more of a peach pit. Almonds, like most of our prized fruits, are in the rose family, and a relative of the peach, genus Amygdala. (Think about the similar corrugated appearance of an unhusked almond and a peach pit.)

Almonds have been around for centuries, mentioned 10 times in the Bible, and apparently originating in the Mediterranean area. Consequently, they grow best (and for all practical commercial purposes) only in the Mediterranean climate of California from which 80% of the world’s almonds are produced. Make that HAVE BEEN produced.

Why the concern about the almond’s future? The combined impact of California’s ongoing and apparently long-term pattern of drought; and the fact that almonds require bee pollination to set fruit. The dire predicament of the honey bee, sadly, has become common knowledge since the appearance of Colony Collapse Disorder.

So before things get better, they are likely to get worse for those of us who are fond of almonds in our breakfast cereal and marzipan shapes in our Christmas stockings.

The good news: a hybrid between a low-yield self-pollinated almond and the high-quality high-yield almond cultivar is in the works. It too, however, likes lots of water. Consider that it takes a bit over a gallon of water to produce ONE SINGLE ALMOND.

And the other good-ish news is that maybe we are getting closer to understanding bee biology. New mathematical models, tiny bee-back tracking chips and new insight about bee winter diets may move us closer to saving the honeybee from extinction.

Turns out that bees, like humans, suffer from the dietary effects of high fructose corn syrup. We get fat. They lose some of their native responses to challenges like the ubiquitous pesticides they encounter everywhere. Why are bees fed HFCS? Because their honey is money. We take that and give them the low cost alternative. But maybe the cost has been higher than we thought.

It takes how much water to grow an almond?! | Grist
[Take a look at this one if none of the other links. This is sobering in light of the US West’s water future and those of us who eat.]

California’s Thirsty Almonds | Feature | Oakland, Berkeley & Bay Area News & Arts Coverage

42 Gallons Of Water To Make One Slice Of Pizza, And Other Facts We Need To Know – Forbes

Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst  NYTimes

Entomologists: “Stop feeding corn syrup to honeybees.” Duh. | Grist

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Because I live in Los Angeles County, I am experiencing some of this, but I wish the public was pounded on a whole lot more than we are to conserve water. Our media could be doing a much better job of encouraging awareness, especially among urban folks who live in apartments, etc. We are not doing our part to conserve.
    (FYI, your redesigned blog has no way for commenters to save their name, etc., so we don’t have to rewrite them each time.)