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Watch How Farm Machines Shake Down Almond Trees

California grows 80 percent of the world’s almonds, for now

Almonds on a tree, ready for harvest in California (Bill & Brigitte Clough/AgStock Images/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

We eat plenty of food without realizing where it came from, how it grows or who harvests it. Pineapples grow one per plant, for instance—the spiky fruit sprouts rather incongruously out of the top of a cluster of blade-like leaves. And almonds grow on trees—but they aren't actually nuts. They're seeds

How do you imagine we get those many seeds off an unsuspecting tree? If your guess includes a large machine that shakes the entire tree, you are correct.

Here’s a video of the process posted by Andrea Holwegner (via Digg). 

Similar shakers help harvest other tree crops, such as apples. Cherry trees also get a shake-down, but they need hoppers to keep the fruit from bruising. 

Take a gander at the almond shake while you can. California produces about 80 percent of the world’s almonds, reports Felicity Barringer for The New York Times. But production may not be sustainable at those levels for much longer given the ongoing drought (the worst in 1,200 years) and the trouble almond farmers have getting the water their trees need

Barringer writes:

Farmers are planting almonds because, as permanent crops, they do not need to be replanted after every harvest. They have been steadily taking over from cotton and lettuce because they are more lucrative. “That’s the highest and best use of the land,” said Ryan Metzler, 45, who grows almonds near Fresno.

The problem is that not only do almonds and pistachios, another newly popular nut, need more water, but the farmers choosing permanent crops cannot fallow them in a dry year without losing years of investment.

That has set California up for a tug-of-war for water between farmers, city-dwellers, the environment and fisheries—California salmon depend on a minimum of water flowing through the rivers they need to spawn. 

“We have clearly exceeded the ability of our water supplies — including surface and groundwater — to meet the demands we’re putting on it," Kate Poole, a water expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Times. "We have to change, stretching how much we can get out of each drop through expanded urban and agricultural efficiency.”

It’s yet to be determined which sides will have to give up some of their share.

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