5 Questions About Almonds—Answered

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Almonds are one of the most researched foods around the world, but facts about the nutrient-rich nut can be misunderstood because of the amount of complex information out there. So we want to set the record straight. Let’s crack this nut (well, seed, technically).

Question #1: Do almonds contain a lot of calories and fat?

“There’s about 175 calories in a 30g portion of almonds [about 20 nuts],” explains Juliette Kellow R.D., a consultant for the Almond Board of California. “This might seem like a lot, but in almonds, there’s plant-based protein, fiber, and heart-friendly monounsaturated fats.”

On the subject of fat, research has shown that eating almonds as a mid-morning snack instead of one that is high in carbs can help limit the number of calories consumed throughout the day. “Protein and healthy fats have been linked to keeping us fuller for longer,” Kellow says. “Almonds are also full of energy-promoting B vitamins,” she continues. “They make for a great pre- and post-workout snack.” If you stick to a handful or two a day, the benefits outweigh the calories and fat.

Question #2: Is almond farming bad for bees?


Almond pollen is very nutritious for bees and they consistently leave California almond orchards stronger than when they arrived

Dan Goldberg

Almond trees naturally provide honeybees with their first major food source of the growing season. The blossoms have nutritious pollen packed with the 10 essential amino acids bees need to survive.

A recent study has shown that the nectar from almond blossoms contains a compound called amygdalin, which may reduce the incidences of certain viral diseases in honeybees and support their gut health. “Thanks to these factors, honeybees generally leave almond orchards stronger than when they arrived,” explains Josette Lewis, Ph.D, chief scientific officer at the Almond Board of California.

And almond farmers recognize the importance of bees. Many are improving their sustainability efforts in collaboration with green non-profits like Pollinator Partnership, the world’s largest non-profit dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems. Currently, the Pollinator Partnership has recognized 110,000 acres of almond orchards as bee-friendly, representing 85% of all bee-friendly certified US farms.

Question #3: Are almond farms a monoculture?


Cover crops being planted to promote biodiversity

Ross Thomas

Many Californian almond farms have introduced cover crops (plants that cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested), which act as another form of support for bees. “Cover crops are a great way to support pollinators, as they provide additional forage,” says Lewis. “Just like people, bees need a diverse diet, and the cover crop seeds we use provide that and benefit the farms.”

“We’re definitely growing a primary crop (almonds), but with cover crops we are adding an incredible amount of diversity into that system,” explains Rory Crowley, Director of Habitat Programs at Project Apis m., who is in charge of the Seeds for Bees program, which creates and distributes these diverse cover crop seed mixes that establish biodiversity on these farms. “We’re doing this through the likes of brassicas including daikon radishes, which are good for water penetration and put a lot of organic matter into the ground, and legumes, which add nitrogen back into the soil.”

And it’s not just honeybees that this extra forage helps out. “Cover crops benefit a lot of wildlife,” Crowley explains. “They support other pollinators like native bees, moths and butterflies, as well as the good bugs that eat the bad bugs. Density, duration and diversity of available forage…that’s what we’re trying to achieve with our seed mixes.”

Question #4: Does almond farming use a lot of water?


82% of California almond farms use water-saving microirrigation

Dan Goldberg

This is one of the biggest, toughest questions for the almond-growing community. Water is needed to grow just about everything, but in California (where 80% of the world’s almonds are grown) and many other places with drought-prone Mediterranean-style climates, it’s a precious commodity.

“Water efficiency is super-important to us,” says Danielle Veenstra, a third-generation Californian almond farmer. “We’ve reduced the amount we use to grow each almond by 33% since the 1990s—and we have a goal to reduce it by a further 20% by 2025.”

One way they are using water more efficiently is through ultra-precise micro sprinklers or drippers. In fact, 82% of California almond farms use this method when irrigating. Another is by chopping up old almond trees and returning them to the soil in an almost ‘circle of life’ way. “When an almond tree is at the end of its life we can turn it into wood chips and put them into the soil to improve its quality,” explains Veenstra. “Less water is needed because it improves the water holding capacity of the soil. Research shows it can also increase our yields.”

Cutting edge technology is also being explored when it comes to water conservation, including fitting smart technology around the trunks of almond trees, which let farmers know when, and how much, they need watering—stopping unnecessary waste.

Almond farmers have other sustainability goals they’re working toward including sequestering carbon by recycling old trees, and becoming zero waste, with the latter upcycling almond byproducts. “A lot of almond hulls go into dairy feed and the shells are used for livestock bedding, but we’ve recently experimented with other ways we can put those things to even better use,” explains Veenstra. “One way was that we extracted the sugars from the hulls and created delicious beer from it.”

Question #5: Isn’t almond farming run by big corporations?


Danielle Veenstra working on her family orchard

Ross Thomas

Not at all. In fact, according to the USDA’s most recent agriculture census, more than 90% of almond farms are family-run. Veenstra’s grandfather, for example, planted his first orchard in 1965, and her family continues to grow on the same land today.” Family is a big reason I’m working so hard to make almond growing sustainable,” she explains. “I want to hand my farm down to future generations in the best condition I can. That’s what motivates me.”

Find out more about California almond farmers’ sustainability initiatives

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