Is Saudi Arabia’s Purchase of California Farmland Contributing to the State’s Drought Crisis?

Due to climate change, Saudi Arabia is experiencing a debilitating drought, which is hindering their ability to grow alfalfa. So, in order to feed their cows, a Saudi-owned dairy company, Almarai, has bought up massive amounts of farmland in California. Yes, the dangerously drought-stricken U.S. state, California.

As it turns out, approximately 100 billion gallons of water per year is used to produce feed for foreign cattle. The U.S. is receiving compensation for these exports; however, this forces the U.S. to bear the burden of providing water to the rest of the world when we don’t even have enough groundwater in some parts of the country to meet the basic needs of our own residents.

water for farms
Yet, foreign companies who can no longer support their businesses in the conditions present on their own soil are snatching up California farmland for sale. Almarai has now purchased around 14,000 acres of farmland in the western region of the United States.

There are just over 2.2 million active farms in the U.S. and California farms lead the nation in the growth of 66 crops, including artichokes, dates, raisins, pistachios, pomegranates, sweet rice, and walnuts. Despite its current environmental setbacks, California’s top three agricultural exports are almonds, dairy, and wine, and about two out of every five acres of crops grown by American farmers are exported elsewhere. Additionally, about 25% of California-grown alfalfa is being exported across the globe to feed foreign cattle.

The selling of farmland real estate and the practice of exporting crops to foreign businesses and consumers are not the problems for those who have expressed concern. Rather, critics are worried about the amount of water that is going towards growing the specific crop: alfalfa. Alfalfa is known as one of the most water-intensive crops around, and California does not have a lot of water to spare.

It is not just Saudi Arabia. In fact, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates also grow significant amounts of alfalfa in the United States. But why are these countries choosing the United States as the ideal place to grow their water-sucking crops? It is because of how our government subsidizes agriculture. It is a good thing that the U.S. government contributes in order to feed the nation, but when that agriculture is being shipped halfway around the world, and our residents never see a morsel, that is when people become concerned.

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