You know what they say: if ya can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Well looks like this is exactly what’s happening in California, where dairy sales are doing so poorly that farmers are actually converting their dairy farms into almond groves. Why? Consumers are done with dairy and the numbers don’t lie. Within the past year, almond milk sales in the U.S. have risen by 4.2 percent, reaching just shy of being a $1 billion industry. Consumption of dairy, on the other hand, has been facing a steady decline for decades. Today, Americans consume 37 percent less dairy than they did in 1970 and in the past year alone, consumption of low-fat milk plummeted by 13 percent. According to an article on Idaho Statesmen, “the real blow to dairy is the widespread replacement of cows for almond groves.”

Now this news is pretty huge… The dairy industry has had a stronghold over U.S. consumers for decades – largely because of claims that dairy is the best way to get calcium and “build strong bones.” While the claims the dairy industry has made about the merits of milk and cheese have been blindly followed by many, consumers are starting to wake up. From concerns over growth hormones and antibiotics in milk to a rise in dairy allergies, and growing awareness of the environmental impact as well as animal welfare issues associated with milk, people are increasingly saying “see ya!” to dairy. Just as this consumer shift is happening, a whole crop of companies producing almond milk and other dairy alternatives are coming to the forefront, essentially taking over the industry altogether. And it looks like what is happening in California (one of the U.S.’s largest dairy-producing states) is a clear response to this.

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The number of Californian almond groves has nearly doubled over the past decade! One farmer, Richard Wagner, plans on expanding his almond grove by 300 acres within the next year. In an interview with Idaho Statesman, Wagner – who took over his father’s dairy farm – explained, “The economics for the trees has been very good. Dairymen have a decision.” In clear head nod to this, Olam Farming Inc., part of Singapore-Based Olam International, recently purchased a 1,550-acre mega-dairy in Bakersfield, CA, with the plans of converting it into an almond grove. It’s also predicted that this shift in land use is going to drive a larger scale change in the near future. According to Vernon Crowder, a Fresno, California-based senior vice president at Rabobank International, “the pressure for weaker California dairies to sell out to nut producers will continue over the next five years, and those who don’t sell will be installing groves.”

Not to mention converting dairy farms to almond groves could help the drought-stricken California save water. It’s estimated that it takes around 30 gallons of water to produce one glass of milk and 23 gallons of water to make almond milk. So while arguments have been made that almonds are a highly water-intensive crop, it is a better choice in comparison to dairy – not to mention, almond production doesn’t come along with the methane emissions and extreme air and water pollution that dairy farming does.

The dairy industry is still attempting to fight the “good” fight with celebrity athlete-driven campaigns like Milk Life, but when you consider the amount of new, innovative non-dairy products that have been hitting the market, it seems like they’re just treading water. Thankfully, Californian farmers are catching on to the rise of milk alternatives. Instead of trying to fight the future of food, they’re making the very wise choice to go with the flow.

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