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California farms lead the way in almond production
Fuelling the boom is robust foreign demand, particularly from emerging consumer markets like China and India, where the industry has been promoting almonds as a healthful snack.
About 70% of California's almonds are sold overseas. That made the crunchy nut the No. 1 state agricultural export in 2012 at $2.5 billion. That's 21/2 times more than wine, the second-most-valuable California agricultural export, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Almond Board of California forecasts that the state will harvest its third-largest crop this year at 1.85 billion pounds — slightly less than last year's 1.88 billion pounds. That's more than three times what the state was producing in the late 1990s.
Experts are optimistic that the industry can maintain that sort of volume in the coming years. Foreign demand is expected to increase. Competition should remain light. The main barriers to continued growth are access to land and tightening water supplies. "We'll run out of dirt and water before we run out of almond markets," said Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Centre at UC Davis.
With almond prices nearly doubling in the last five years to $2.58 a pound, it's little wonder that growers have been abandoning crops such as cotton and furiously planting almond trees. There's twice as much almond acreage in California as there was two decades ago. Meanwhile, cotton acreage has dwindled to about 400,000 acres from 1.3 million acres over the same period.
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