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Salt is Slowly Crippling California's Almond Industry

Salt Is Slowly Crippling California's Almond Industry : The Salt : NPR

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Not the salt added to make roasted almonds savory, but salt in groundwater – which is killing trees.

"The trees just don't look healthy," says Paul Parreira. He and his brother David ship over 30 million pounds of almonds around the globe each year from Rpac Almonds, in California's Central Valley.

"Everybody is watering at the minimum levels with high-salinity water," he says. "It's a double-edged sword."

High salinity levels in groundwater used for agriculture has long been a problem in the west side of the Central Valley, but this year, it's also an issue on the east side, a growing region at the base of the Sierra Nevada that's usually wet. Many farmers have zero allocation of surface water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, so they're forced to irrigate with salty groundwater. And the few farmers who do get delta water say it's also saltier than normal these days.


In Merced, the issue isn't just salty groundwater. The kicker is preexisting salt-laden soil. Almond trees have a threshold for how much salt they can take in. The trees fight toxicity as long as they can, but at some point, they give up — and salt wins. Doll says the answer to save the trees is to dilute the potency of salt in groundwater.

"Rain will do it naturally for us," Doll says. But when there's no rain, he encourages farmers to dilute the salt in the ground by using irrigation water, if they have extra, to flood the fields.

But if rain doesn't come, Doll says to expect a shrinking California almond crop in the years to come. According to the Almond Board, that's already happening: Crop yields for almonds statewide are projected to go down by 4 percent this year.

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