By Elizabeth Zach, staff writer

Despite California’s deepening drought, farmers throughout the state are growing a bumper crop of almonds. It’s less than in recent years – 1.85 billion pounds, down 1 percent from last year and 9 percent from 2011 – but it’s still tremendous production of a crop meeting global demand.

At about $4 per pound, almonds are a lucrative crop, and so growers are encouraged to pay mightily for irrigation, groundwater pumping and purchasing river water. Since the state’s drought started, many growers in the Merced Irrigation District and parts of the San Joaquin Valley have watered less or have taken out entire orchards, but still, their gross income in 2013 totaled about $2.3 billion.

At the same time, growers say that better farming techniques such as closer tree spacing in new orchards, better pruning, drip and other efficient irrigation methods can produce higher yields per acre. This is in response to critics who say that it’s unconscionable that so much water goes to a crop that is largely exported. Growers argue that the nuts are a healthy form of protein and fat, and that the income it brings in from abroad helps drive the regional economy.

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