Kern's massive almond industry faces uncertain future

    An almond grows on a tree at the Holtermann family orchard in Wasco, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

    Trees are shaking in Wasco and around Kern County as almond harvest gets into full swing.

    But the question remains, can farmers sell their entire bounty? And if so, at what price?

    Tariffs are applying significant pressure. Nearly 70 percent of almonds are exported and China is among the top destinations.

    Will consumers there be willing to pay substantially higher prices?

    "All consumers are price sensitive at some point," Holly King, the chair of the Almond Board of California, said.

    California's almond crop is expected to be larger this year, but King said that has more to do with the increase in almond acreage than anything else.

    Individual trees are producing less than last year. This season brought weather challenges and bees failed to pollinate at the optimal rate.

    "That hurt a series of farmers from here all the way up to the northern end of the state," said Jenny Holtermann, whose family farms almonds in Wasco.

    Holtermann is one of many farmers who use a combination of well water and surface water for their operation. California's new groundwater recharge laws have her nervous.

    "There will be a need for all farmers to fallow land," she said.

    The Almond Board has invested millions in research to improve water efficiency with considerable success, but almonds remain a thirsty crop and a frequent target of critics in favor of redirecting California's most fought-over resource.

    The board is also working to drum up new markets for almonds, should the trade war with China persist. Mexico is at the top of the list.

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