Almond Trees In Orchard

Most of the world’s almonds come from large orchards in California’s Central Valley.

by Brian Shilhavy & David Kincaid
Health Impact News

Almonds are now the most-consumed nut eaten in America, surpassing even peanuts. Americans consumption of almonds has increased 220 percent since 2005.

Is this meteoric rise in almond consumption due to consumer demand, or consumer compliance?

A look behind the scenes at just how almonds came to dominate the market, and what it takes to produce such large quantities, reveals a dark side to almonds of which most consumers are probably unaware.

California Uses Farm Subsidies and Tax Revenue to Dominate the World’s Almond Supply

80% of the world’s almonds come from California’s Central Valley. Almonds are the #1 agricultural crop grown in California. It is a $4 billion industry.

Like many commodity crops grown in the U.S., almonds are regulated by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and receive millions of dollars in farm subsidies and other tax revenues. This gives California almond growers a distinct advantage in controlling prices. The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center explains:

In an effort to control over-supply and stabilize prices in a saturated market, the almond marketing order established the almond reserve. In years where large almond crops are expected to significantly depress prices, the almond reserve can require a percentage of almonds be withheld from handling and diverted to low-paying secondary outlets. The Almond Board of California makes yearly recommendations to the Secretary of the USDA on the percentage of saleable almonds, if any, to be removed from the market and placed into reserve. [1]

Senator Tom Coburn reported that Blue Diamond Growers — self-described as the “world’s largest tree nut processing and marketing company” with over $3 billion in sales over a recent 5-year period — received more than $28 million from 1999 to 2012 to market its products overseas under the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Market Access Program. [2] More recently, Blue Diamond received $4.7 million under the same subsidy program. [3]

Much of the research and information you read regarding almonds and their health benefits is also most likely funded by the Almond Board of California, started by the USDA. To be a player in the multi-billion dollar industry, you need to play by the rules and contribute to its marketing efforts via a 3.0 cent “checkoff,” similar to a sales tax that more than likely is passed off to the consumer:

Like many U.S. agricultural commodities, the USDA provides federal oversight for the handling of almonds. An almond marketing order established the Almond Board of California, which administers the provisions of the order under USDA supervision. Funded by a 3.0 cent “checkoff” for each pound of almonds entering the marketplace, the Almond Board uses these funds to expand markets, fund production research and increase marketing promotion. [4]

Using the federal government and U.S. tax revenue, it is easy to see how the California almond industry was able to convince compliant consumers to start eating more almonds!

When a competitor to the almond industry selling walnuts tried to advertise the health benefits of walnuts a few years ago, the FDA stepped in and claimed they were making illegal health claims. [5] They forced them into a class action lawsuit to pay back millions of dollars to consumers for “misleading them” on the health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids in walnuts. [6]

It isn’t just Americans eating more almonds, however. California almonds now dominate the world market as well.

In a report published in the journal California Agriculture in 1993, titled Restricting flow of almonds to export markets may raise profits, the study authors explain how California supplanted Italy as Europe’s main supplier of almonds from 1965 through 1991. They also dominated the Japanese market, comprising almost 100% of their almond market:

Major markets for California almonds have developed in Japan and the European Economic Community (EC) countries of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Essentially, all the almonds consumed in Japan are supplied by California, but the largest single export market for California almonds is Germany. Germany accounts for close to 30% of total California almond exports, and since 1980, California has supplied 70% of the German almond market. California enjoys similarly large market shares in France: 58.5%, the Netherlands: 56.8% and Great Britain: 81.7%.

Marketing of California almonds is regulated under a federal marketing order. This order provides authority for the Almond Board of California, an industrywide organization comprised of growers and handlers, to regulate the flow of almonds to domestic and export markets. Decisions made by the California almond industry have a major impact on almond prices in other countries, and understanding the relationship between prices and the flow of almonds to the various markets helps it to manage wisely its strong position in the world market. [7]

Today, the Hong Kong/China market, which purchased U.S. almonds valued at $648.9 million in 2012, has become the top destination for U.S. almonds, surpassing the Western European market.

The California Almond Industry is Threatening the North American Bee Supply

Earlier this year, Health Impact News staff writer John P. Thomas documented how each spring almost the entire North American honey bee supply is transported to California just to pollinate their almond trees.

In 2013, a large number of bees being transported to California arrived dead.  Furthermore, the mingling of bees from around the country — spreading mites and disease — combined with exposure to pesticides including neonicotinoids, has led a number of observers to question how long this bee-transport system can continue before reaching a crisis point for the national bee population.

The problem is so severe that the term “colony collapse disorder” has been coined to describe the seemingly mysterious loss of 50 to 90 percent of beekeepers’ colonies nationwide.

This has dire implications not only for California almond crops but much of America’s food supply, which is heavily dependent on bees for pollination. As Dr. Mercola observes, “Just about every fruit and vegetable you can imagine is dependent on the pollinating services of bees. Apple orchards, for instance, require one colony of bees per acre in order to be adequately pollinated. So, unless the mysterious disappearance of bees is reversed, major food shortages could result.” [8]

For more information on how the almond industry affects our honey bees, see:

Are California Almonds Destroying the U.S. Bee Supply?

California Water Drought: Almond Industry Gets Preference over Other Natural Resources

James Hamblin, M.D., wrote a recent article for The Atlantic titled “The Dark Side of Almond Use.” Hamblin indicates that it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond. 44 percent more land in California is being used to farm almonds than was used 10 years ago. With California undergoing a record-breaking drought, combined with more and more land in the State being devoted to almond groves, the huge demand to supply water to almond trees could lead to disastrous consequences.

For one, such an immense amount of water is being diverted from the Klamath River in northern California that endangered king salmon are being threatened by gill rot disease. In addition, according to Hamblin, “Over-pumping of aquifers threatens infrastructure like roads, which stand to collapse into sunken ground. Farmers can fallow vegetable fields during droughts, but almond trees need steady supplies of water.” [9]

So while so many in California are suffering due to record-breaking droughts, the California almond industry is forecasting to have its biggest harvest ever.

Conclusion: Why Are You Buying Almonds?

So the next time you reach for an almond product to purchase, ask yourself: “Am I buying this because I am a knowledgeable consumer making a wise purchase, or because I am a compliant consumer, purchasing something the government together with a large industry wants me to support?”


[1] Agricultural Marketing Resource Center – Iowa State University – Almond Profile.

[2] TreasureMap: The Market Access Program’s Bounty of Waste, Loot and Spoils Plundered from Taxpayer – Senator Tom Coburn –

[3] Farm bill passes House, and California growers are happy, Michael Doyle, McClatchy Washington Bureau, The Sacramento Bee, Jan. 29, 2014

[4] Agricultural Marketing Resource Center – Iowa State University – Almond Profile.

[5] FDA to Diamond Foods: “Your Walnuts Are Drugs” – Karen De Coster –, July 18, 2011

[6] Diamond Foods settles suit over walnut claims – Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP –, January 20 2012

[7] Restricting flow of almonds to export markets may raise profits – California Agriculture 47(6):7-10. DOI: 10.3733, November-December 1993

[8] Beekeeping Industry ‘Doomed’ — Might We See Destruction of Food Supply Before the End of This Decade?, Dr. Mercola,< /span>, 6/08/2013

[9] The Dark Side of Almond Use – James Hamblin, M.D. –The Atlantic, Aug 28 2014,

See Also:

Are California Almonds Destroying the U.S. Bee Supply?

Beekeeping Industry ‘Doomed’ – Destruction of Food Supply Soon to Follow?

Scientists Discover Fungicide and Pesticide are Killing Bees―and It’s Worse Than You Thought

Food Security: Why Congress Should Care About the Beepocalypse