Nutty for almonds? New research from the University of Idaho shows climate change could expand almond production, now mostly confined to the state of California, to the Pacific Northwest as soon as 2050, according to a study published in the journal Climatic Change.
UI researcher Lauren Parker was watching the news one evening in 2014 when she saw a report coming out of California about almond farmers being forced to tear their trees out of the ground in the midst of an agriculturally devastating drought.
It made her think. If climate change was affecting almond growth in California, the country’s largest supplier of the crop by far, could a warmer climate also make almond cultivation possible in the north, where risk of spring frost damage has prevented it before?
Native to the Middle East, the almond tree is tolerant of warm temperatures, so long as it gets the water it needs, Parker said. As climate models predict increasing temperatures in the Pacific Northwest in the coming decades, Parker said, temperatures for successful almond cultivation could exist in Oregon by the time the next generation of farmers take to their crops.
“2050,” Parker said. “That’s a generation away. We’re talking about today’s almond growers and their children.”
Guided by her advisor, associate professor of geography John Abatzoglou, and with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northwest Climate Hub and Regional Approaches to Climate Change, Parker developed a temperature model. It took future climate projections as well as data from other climate models to determine how almond distribution could develop in the future. She learned the basics of almond physiology and the almond reproductive cycle to understand the climate constraints on their cultivation.
Parker is developing an interactive website with Katherine Hegewisch, a fellow researcher in the Department of Geography, so farmers could use Parker’s model to determine where and when their specialty crops could be viable.
The website would allow farmers and landowners to plug in various climate metrics and different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios to see how their specialty crops would fair under certain conditions and in certain regions, Hegewisch said.
She expects the map to launch this fall, alongside a collection of other web tools known as The Northwest Climate Toolbox at climatetoolbox.org/.