"We don't even mess around with cutting them up with chain saws," he said. "That grinder is the way to do it right there."
Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said he expects that almond growers will be removing trees through the spring and summer because of the drought. "I have no doubt permanent crops will be taken out because of this," he added.
Tim Lynch of Agra Marketing Group said power plants in the state nearly have more wood chips from almond trees than they can handle. Lynch's firm acts as the middle man between growers getting rid of their trees and the power plants that need bio fuel to burn. The dry weather this winter has allowed growers to work in their orchards that are typically soggy, and the drought pushed them to take out trees earlier than normal, he said.
The high value of almonds has caught the eye of investors in recent years, who paid top-dollar for land to plant almond orchards and cash in on the bonanza. Their value remains strong, making the decision for farmers to remove orchards difficult.
William Bourdeau, executive vice president of Harris Farms in Coalinga, said he and his colleagues within the next 30 days will have to confront the hard decision about scaling back their almond orchards. They've already decided not to plant 9,000 acres of vegetables — including 3,000 acres of lettuce that would have produced 72 million heads and generated 700,000 hours of work.
Next, they may rip out 1,000 acres of almonds, a permanent crop, Bourdeau said.
"I hesitate to use a number that big. Unfortunately, it's going to that big or bigger," he said, still holding out hope the season will turn wet. "We're trying to limp along as long as we can."
Leaving the orchards un-watered and expecting they'll somehow survive the drought is no option, Bourdeau said, because insects infest the dying trees and multiply, spreading to other orchards.
Drawing well water is a bad option, he said. Their wells sink 2,400 feet below ground in his region of the Central Valley, providing water that's unhealthy and compromises the crops for years, if the trees survive at all, he said.
They have considered blending well and surface water to minimize the harm. Or they can remove some almonds to direct their limited water to fewer orchards.
"There's a lot of what-ifs," Bourdeau said. "There's no good decision. It's what's the least worse option."