Photo Almond Board of California

Photo: Almond Board of California

California almond industry to accelerate innovation, sustainability

A major new strategic effort designed to make the almond industry even more efficient and sustainable was announced Dec. 9 by the Almond Board of California. Through the Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) effort, the ABC will accelerate its investment in sustainability, plus almond tree and farming research.

A major new strategic effort designed to make the almond industry even more efficient and sustainable was announced Dec. 9 by the Almond Board of California (ABC).

Through the Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) effort, the ABC will accelerate its investment in sustainability plus almond tree and farming research.

In addition, ABC will increase efforts to develop new partnerships and collaborations to drive four major initiatives to move the entire industry forward, says Richard Waycott, the ABC’s president and chief executive officer.

The four major initiatives include:

Water Management and Efficiency - A focus on accelerating almond farmer transition to more efficient irrigation scheduling and management practices to get the most ‘crop per drop’ of water.

This initiative builds on the 33 percent reduction in water used per pound of almonds achieved by the industry over the last 20 years. It will include a range of activities, from working with farmers to fine tuning irrigation techniques, to adopting more advanced water management technology.

Sustainable Water Resources - An exploration of how to best leverage a unique strength of the California Almond industry, its acreage, for accelerating natural flood-year groundwater recharge of aquifers.

California’s aquifers are collectively the state's largest water storage system. Water recharged through this program would benefit all Californians - not just farmers.

A second part of this initiative will search for opportunities to recycle water from multiple sources, including municipal wastewater, to increase overall water availability for farmers and all Californians.

Air quality provision

Air Quality – Investigate different ways that the almond industry can help meet the Central Valley’s exacting air quality standards. This will delve into various ways that almond production impacts air quality and evaluate opportunities to decrease emissions.

From analyzing industry fossil fuel use to small- and large-particle pollutants, all components of almond farming which impact air quality are under scrutiny.

The initiative will identify alternatives to create cleaner air for all those who live in California's Central Valley – farmers, their families, and surrounding communities.

22nd Century Agronomics - A recognition that the almond industry needs to better understand and adopt technology that will lead California farming into the 22nd century.

The ABC will lead a comprehensive exploration of almond farming techniques; bringing an exploratory mindset to consider all options as to which innovations and technical "leap frogs" are needed to sustainably farm in the future.

Each component of almond farming will be considered -  from land preparation to varietal development to equipment and processing.

Waycott says significant progress has already been achieved on two of the initiatives – sustainable water resources and air quality. The almond industry will keep consumers and customers aware of major research projects in these areas, plus other initiative areas in the future.

"Our recent partnership with Sustainable Conservation is exploring the potential of using California almond orchards for accelerated recharge of Central Valley groundwater,” Waycott said.

Research this winter will channel excess winter flood water into almond orchards in several test sites, including Merced, Stanislaus, and Fresno counties, Waycott says, where a UC Davis study will track soil moisture and water movement, tree response, detailed root development, and growth response.”

Greenhouse gas projects

On air quality, Waycott says the ABC, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and others are carrying out a new USDA-funded pilot project designed to give almond and corn growers greater access to greenhouse gas markets, similar to those under California's cap-and-trade program.

This project builds on nearly 10 years of ABC funding to improve nitrogen management and better understand greenhouse gas emissions, particularly nitrous oxide (N2O) from almond orchards.

Waycott says the EDF project dovetails with ABC-funded research to better understand the energy flows and the associated greenhouse gases over the average 25 years of an almond orchard’s life. 

Life cycle analysis research on growing almonds by UC Davis has shown that the industry could become carbon neutral, or even negative, if policy changes and production advancements work hand-in-hand.

Waycott voiced that farmers are innovators. Since the first California almond plantings more than 150 years ago, almond growers have adapted, changed, and pushed ahead to improve best practices and develop new technology.

ABC research programs have driven the innovation and through this new program will carry on and accelerate this important tradition.

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