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Invasion of the Hedge Fund Almonds

Invasion of the Hedge Fund Almonds Mother Jones


Almond products—snack mixes, butters, milk—are flying off supermarket shelves. The value of the California almond market hit$4.8 billion in 2012—that's triple the level of a decade earlier. Only dairy is worth more to the state than almonds and grapes. In fact, almonds, along with California-grown pistachios and walnuts, are becoming so lucrative that big investment funds, eager to get in on the boom, are snapping up land and dropping in trees.

There's just one problem: Almond orchards require about a third more water per acre than grape vineyards. In fact, they're one of California's thirstiest crops. It takes a gallon of water to produce a single almond—more than three times the amount required for a grape and two and a half times as much for a strawberry. There's more water embedded in just four almonds than there is in a full head of lettuce. But unlike row crops, which farmers can choose not to plant during dry spells, almond trees must be watered no matter what.

In the midst of the worst drought in California's history, you might expect almonds' extreme thirst to be a deal breaker. But it's not. In fact, the drought has had hardly any impact at all on the almond boom. 

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It's not intuitive that almonds use more water than grapes, strawberries, and lettuce.

One more thing to worry about.

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