Milk, the kind from cows, is still Americans’ favorite complement to a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. But it’s feeling the heat from milk, the kind from almonds.
You can tell by the trash talk.
“You can’t get milk from an almond,” said Chris Galen, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation. “You have to add a lot of other ingredients to make it look like milk.”
Galen’s correct, of course, as anyone who’s ever attempted to milk an almond can attest. Almond milk usually contains only 2 percent almonds, with a lot of water, vitamins and gelling agents mixed in. But the numbers don’t lie. U.S. sales of almond milk rose 4.2 percent last year to within sniffing distance of $1 billion, according to IRI data. At the same time, while Americans are drinking more organic and full-fat cow’s milk, low-fat varieties are plunging, with skim milk consumption down 13 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s June data.
But the real blow to dairy is the widespread replacement of cows for almond groves.
California is tops in the U.S. for both dairy production (about one-third more than No. 2 Wisconsin) and almonds (80 percent of global output). Land in the state devoted to almond groves has been steadily rising -- 350,000 acres (141,640 hectares) added over the last decade, enough to double the crop to more than 2 billion pounds, according to Rabobank International –- while the state lost about 10,000 milk cows this year through July, a 0.6 percent drop from 2015.
Among the culprits: California’s new higher minimum wage, which is crimping profit margins at labor-intensive dairies more than the groves, and mandatory water restrictions in the fertile Central Valley amid a years-long drought. That’s pushed almond cultivation to places it’s been rare before. Such as dairy farms.
In Bakersfield, California, Olam Farming Inc., part of Singapore-based Olam International, recently bought George Borba & Son’s 1,550-acre mega-dairy and 8,000 cows were auctioned off in favor of almonds and pistachios.