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Almonds, Bees, Pesticides & Water

Almonds, Bees, Pesticides & Water

If you are doing the maths on the planet price of your food, almonds are definitely among the more expensive

Unless you grow your own food in a completely self managed organic, off the grid space, there is a long list of 'conditions' to just about any food you buy. Almonds are one food that comes with a couple of costly conditions. 

Almonds are one of those foods that pretty much everyone eats without squabbling about whether it's humane or healthy, but while almonds are undeniably healthy, there is some debate about just how humane they are.

There are two main issues with almonds - they play a big role in killing a lot of bees each year and it takes an incredible amount of water to grow them. 

Pollination & Bee Populations

The USA is still the biggest producer of almonds in the world, and more specifically, Central Valley in California. Traditional almond trees are pollinated by bees and for many beekeepers who travel hives to pollinate crops, almonds are a big chunk of their income. And that is the beginning of the problem. Almond tree pollination is one big free for all bee party. The second part of the problem is that there are plenty of drugs at the party.

Beekeepers travel from all over the USA for California’s almond bloom - the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, to pollinate groves each February. It involves hundreds of thousands of hives. Even for the most conscientious beekeepers, with disease and mites rife in some colonies, when your animals party for a month with hundreds of thousands of other hives, some of them are going to catch communicable diseases.

Then there are the drugs. Large scale almond groves are doused in a number of chemicals, but mostly the herbicide glyphosate (aka Roundup) which has been shown to be lethal to bees. 

These convergent outcome of these two factors is a lot of bee deaths. It is now the 'norm' to expect a loss of around 30% of hive populations. (Last year, Bee Informed Partnership reported an alarming spike in bee deaths, accounting for a loss of around 37% of USA's commercial bee hives.) The statistics have organic beekeepers in an uproar as they rightly point out the bees are being exploited and treated as an expendable commodity by both the beekeepers and the groves - both of whom understand exactly what is going on. It probably goes without saying that if you are an honest vegan, you should at least be buying pesticide free almonds, if not organic. 

Watering commercial almond trees

It takes about 5.5 litres of water to produce one single almond. An average healthy tree produces 20,000 nuts. (Once you start doing that math, it's pretty easy to understand why California's almond groves use 10% of the entire state's water supply.)

Apart from the entire monoculture debate, that is a crap load of water for one single crop.

Self Pollinating Almonds

While most of the world almond supply still comes from bee pollinated almonds, around the world, varieties of self pollinating almond trees are on the rise. They are available at most fruit nurseries, including dwarf varieties. The objective is for these trees to not only self pollinate, but to use less water and suffer from less diseases, thereby needing less chemical management. 

Images: Bounty Almond Tree | | Fruit Tree Lane | Redaccion ECA

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