California Dairy Farmers Are Switching to Almonds

Faced with milk’s declining profitability, some California dairy farmers have “diversified” with almond groves over the past few years.

Why Almonds?

In California, one of the biggest dairy states in the country, some farmers have converted land to almond tree groves. Richard Waycott, CEO of the Almond Board of California, told Food Navigator in 2017 that production is expected to rise to 3 billion lbs by 2021.

This includes farmers “that might have traditionally planted x-hundred acres of corn or silage for their dairy herds, but are now sourcing that from out of state and diversifying into almonds.” 

An August 2017 video posted by the California Ag Network encourages “diversifying” into almond groves. Dairy Herd Management has even recommended the strategy. According to The Vegconomist, the average income for a dairy farmer was $43,000 in 2017 — but one Minnesota farm reportedly makes less than $15,000.

Former dairy producer Elmhurst now makes vegan milk | image/Elmhurst

Dairy’s Steady Decline

According to a Dairy Farmers of America report, milk sales fell $1 billion in 2018 — down to $14 billion from 2017’s $15 billion. The milk industry is still big, but has been on a steady decline since the mid-1970s.

U.S. sales of vegan milk, meanwhile, continue to climb, led by almond milk. Vegan milk sales climbed 9 percent in 2017 — representing 15 percent of total fluid milk sales — according to the Plant Based Foods Association.

Despite pushback from dairy lobbyists on what can be labeled “milk,” consumers are embracing dairy-free alternatives. New data shows that 75 percent of consumers are in favor of calling vegan milk “milk.” And it’s a popular grocery staple, vegan or not — nearly half of American consumers buy both plant-based and dairy.

There are several reasons why more are choosing vegan milk — some choose it for the health benefits while others opt out of cow’s milk over environmental or animal welfare concerns.

Dairy brands are taking notice. In 2016, NYC-based dairy plant Elmhurst shut down operations only to re-open as a vegan milk producer. Danone, owner of Danon, Activia, and Actimel, purchased WhiteWave Foods, parent company to vegan milk producers Silk, So Delicious, and Alpro. The French dairy giant credited plant-based food for a revenue spike last April.

The vegan milk market is expected to surpass $37.5 billion by 2025, according to Global Market Insights.