New research published in the Journal of Ecological Indicators has found that the water footprint of almonds grown in California is smaller[1] than a global average originally reported.[2] 

The study also reaffirms that growing almonds is a good use of water. According to study author and University of California, Davis researcher Fraser Shilling, “The study illustrates a balancing act. It’s not just that almonds use water, but that there are benefits you get with that use of water.”

To that end, the research found that almonds rank among the most valuable foods grown in California in terms of the dietary and economic benefits for the water needed to produce them.[3]

In general, plants require more energy, and thus water, to grow proteins and fats than carbohydrates and sugars.[4] So, while almonds and other nuts grown in California need more water per serving than most fruits and vegetables, they are also rich in essential nutrients, good fats and protein, which contribute to their popularity as a healthy, satisfying and heart-smart snack.[5]

“Growing our knowledge base around essential issues like water is core to the California almond community’s sustainability journey and key to responsible farming,” said Richard Waycott, Almond Board of California (ABC) President and CEO. “Primarily, this research helps us better understand the water footprint of California almonds and opportunities for further improvement. But, as part of a larger picture considering the water used to grow food in California, it also highlights some of the key attributes for human health and for California’s economy.”

Since 1973, the California almond community has been investing in research to improve how almonds are grown and processed, including the support of 201 water research projects to date. “The Almond Board is proud to be rooted in science that serves as the foundation for continuous improvement by almond farmers and processors,” said Gabriele Ludwig, ABC Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs.

“Water footprint is a theoretical approach for determining the amount of water – direct and indirect – used in the production of a product and, like other ecological impact calculations, is based on modeling. In the case of this research, the modeling is based on calculating the maximum water needed to grow almond trees,” continued Ludwig. “But in practice, almond farmers generally use about 25% less water than the models show.”[6]

Over the past 20 years, California almond farmers have reduced the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of almonds by 33% thanks to research-based farming improvements and the adoption of water-saving technology.[7]

What’s more, almond farmers grow four crops per drop, including almond hulls, shells and woody material, and using and recycling those co-products can offset some of almonds’ water footprint. The trees store carbon and are transformed into electricity at the end of their lives, the shells become livestock bedding and the hulls are nutritious dairy feed, reducing the water needed to grow other feed crops. While other crops can leave behind pits, peels and rinds, almonds are relatively unique in that nothing goes to waste.

Almond Board of California continues to provide almond farmers with the research and best practices to create more sustainable water resources in California.

To learn more almonds and water, visit For more on the new research publication, see the Water Footprint + Almonds factsheet.



[1] Fulton, et al. Water-Indexed Benefits and Impacts of California Almonds. Journal of Ecological Indicators. Apr. 2018.

[2] Mekonnen, M., & Hoekstra, A. The Green, Blue and Grey Water Footprint of Crops and Derived Crop Products. UNESCO – IHE Institute for Water Education. 2010.

[3] Fulton, et al. Water-Indexed Benefits and Impacts of California Almonds. Journal of Ecological Indicators. Apr. 2018.

[4] Munier-Jolain, et al. Are the carbon costs of seed production related to the quantitative and qualitative performance? An appraisal for legumes and other crops. Plant, Cell & Environment. Volume 23, Issue 11. Nov. 2005.

[5] Good news about almonds and heart health. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving on almonds (28g) has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat.

[6] California Almond Sustainability Program. Jan. 2018.

[7] University of California, 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012. Almond Board of California, 1990-94, 2000-14.

The Almond Board of California