Madera, Calif. almond grower and entrepreneur Mallvinder Kahal likes to keep things simple.
Less is best, Kahal believes, not only in farm inputs but also in a new almond product he and his sister developed. Kahal is a 2015 UCLA graduate in environmental sciences and now serves as the operations manager for Kahal Farms. He close to wrapping up the 2017 almond harvest earlier this month.
“We’re catching up now after a few challenges,” Kahal said about the harvest season.
The challenges included an unexpected rain that delayed picking up almonds from the orchard floor during one of the busiest times of the year. They caught up on sweeping the floor during the delay.
Kahal said this year’s crop looked good with no major pest or disease issues though the Navel orangeworm damage percent was reported higher this year on some blocks. There were damage reports on one or two orchard sites but nothing serious. Wet conditions last spring and winter didn’t allow complete orchard sanitation so some damage was expected.
Kahal said they started shaking trees the first week of August, about a week earlier than normal, as blocks matured evenly. He expected to complete harvest by mid-month.
Kahal and his brother J.T. have a custom almond harvesting operation that harvests almonds for Kahal Farms and another 1,000 acres for other growers in the Madera and Merced areas.
Grapes to nuts
This family-owned farm began as a wine grape operation in 1985 but transitioned to exclusively almonds on the original farm property plus new ground. Kahal, a graduate of the Almond Board of California’s (ABC) leadership program, said his farming goal is to minimize chemical applications where possible and manage crop inputs carefully to best use water.
“Less is better, but we are not different from many other almond growers in a lot of what we do. California almond growers are ahead in efforts to be more efficient and sustainable,” he said.
Their almond orchards are irrigated with micro drip, including the use of weather patterns and sensors to direct precision irrigation applications.
Kahal also plants shelter belts on some orchard borders to help reduce dust from blowing out of the orchards at harvest.
He uses a combination of chemical and non-chemical practices in the orchards to minimize pest pressure. Consistent maintenance and vigilance throughout the year help keep pest levels low and reduces the need for chemical sprays.
New product “Better Butter”
Different varieties of almonds are delivered to several processors including Panoche Creek, Minturn Nut, and Bapu Nut. The exception is the Butte variety used to make “Better Butter.”
Kahal and sister Amandeep first began making almond butter for home use, and then decided to expand production and sell it on the retail market. He says their “Better Butter” is unique among other almond butter products as it has no added ingredients.
“We just want the flavor of the almond. We like the taste as is,” Kahal said.
Their aim is to process the almonds into an easily spreadable butter. After starting in the home kitchen, they have scaled up to new machinery to make a smoother butter and to move the product into retail stores.
Kahal credits the ABC’s leadership program with giving him the opportunity to network with industry experts who are focused on the success of everyone in the almond growing community.