Spanish farmers planting almond trees as demand booms

The worldwide demand for almonds is encouraging Spanish farmers to replace sunflower and wheat fields for almond orchards.

Thanks in a large part to their well-publicized health benefits almonds are enjoying a surge in global demand with almond milk and almond flour, being used and as an alternative to dairy and wheat.

This resurgence in planting almond trees is most prevalent in Andalusia’s Guadalquivir valley where “wild boars now come down from the hills to feast on almonds” said agronomist Curro Lopez, 50, an expert on almond farming.

This year Spain is looking to harvest over 61,000 tonnes of almonds a 15% rise on last year, according to the national producers’ association of almond growers.

When it comes to worldwide almond production Spain comes in third behind Australia and the United States, with California alone producing 80% of the world’s almonds.

“When we think that it was Spanish missionaries who brought almonds to the United States” in the 18th century, said Jose Millan, as he watched almonds being shaken from the trees on his land in Santa Cruz.

The 61-year-old farmer was one of the first to introduce intensive almond growing to Andalusia ten years ago. Today, 62 hectares (150 acres) out of his family’s 650 hectares are dedicated to growing almonds.

After seeing a steady increase in prices neighbouring farms have followed suit, with almond orchards now found everywhere in the region.

“World almond production doubled in the last 10-12 years, going from 600,000 tonnes to 1.2 million tonnes, and consumption has increased at the same rhythm,” said Cristobal Perez, who runs a factory near Cordoba.

Farmers have been jumping on the almond bandwagon due to increasing prices which have to as much as 9 euros for a kilo of almond flour which equates to around 5 euros per kilo of almonds.

This new interest in growing almonds is not without its risks. Andalusia is susceptible to droughts and has farmers like Lopez using electronic devices to measure air temperature and soil humidity levels to ensure he gives his trees the water they need.

Almond trees also add amazing colour to the landscape when from late January until about mid-February the trees are in full bloom.

You’ll notice that some are white and others are pink. The white blossoms produce sweet almonds while the pink ones produce the bitter variety.

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