Investors defy California drought

Posted by Christine, May 11, 2015

Sasha Khokha reports for The California Report:

Kathy Smith actually heard the almonds coming before she saw them.

“It’s 11:30 at night, we are trying to sleep, and those tractors are ripping the land right outside our bedroom,” she recalls.

She woke up to find giant patches carved out of the grassy foothills above her house, making way for new almond trees.

Smith is rolling along in a golf cart, calling her 35 cows to dinner. “Come boss! Come boss!” she brays.

“That’s how my father did it. That’s how I do it,” she says. “And my mother used to do it by coming out and playing on her trumpet.”

Smith’s family has grazed cattle on this ranch near Oakdale, southeast of Modesto, since 1943.

But now she’s worried that an explosion in investor-backed almond orchards might threaten that livelihood.

A hillside adjacent to Kathy Smith's ranch, recently planted in almonds.
A hillside adjacent to Kathy Smith’s ranch, recently planted in almonds. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

More than 110,000 acres of almonds have been planted in Stanislaus County. And it doesn’t look like drought will put much of a dent in the boom. U.S. Department of Agriculture stats that came out this week predict just a 1 percent drop in the California almond harvest over last year.

“I can’t tell you how upset I am to have to look over there every single day and see what’s happening to those beautiful foothills. It’s sickening,” says Smith, who had to drill a new well after her household well went dry four years ago. She blames almond growers for sucking down the groundwater.

Read the rest of the story here.

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