The challenges facing California agriculture are formidable.
The strain on agricultural resources is changing the regulatory landscape in which production agriculture operates, and the transformation of consumers’ relationship to how their food is produced requires the industry to engage in long-term thinking and planning to remain competitive, viable, and sustainable.
Almond production has tripled over the last 15 years, and the industry stands on the verge of another cycle of production growth as additional plantings over the last four years come into production. At the same time, all basic inputs - not just water, but land, energy, crop protection, fertilizer, pollination, etc. - are under increasing pressure in the regulatory arena.
A quick look at the regulatory landscape illustrates the challenges facing the industry. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is fundamentally changing the groundwater supply in California, and surface water availability will be limited, even in non-drought years, as agencies divert water releases to support endangered fish species.
A number of regulations are on the way as the state works to move California away from the use of fossil fuels, and urban development continues to place a strain on land availability for agriculture.
On the marketing side, as the consumer demographic shifts from baby boomers to millennials, there is a corresponding fundamental shift in the values driving consumers’ shopping habits. The younger generation of consumers is focused not only on food that is good for them, but also good for the community and the planet.
The Almond Board of California is working on behalf of almond growers and handlers to ensure the industry is ready for this changing world. Almonds are among California’s highest-value agricultural crops, and soon will be its largest acreage crop. With this position comes opportunity, responsibility, and leadership.
Strategic long-term investments in planning and research will poise the industry to increase global demand for almonds while addressing the changing water supply, air quality, bee health, crop protection, and energy use.
This approach includes investment in the industry’s Accelerated Innovation Management program, or AIM, which was launched at last year’s annual Almond Conference, and expansion of global marketing efforts to address production growth and changing consumer needs.
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The AIM program will expand and accelerate sustainability and production research in nine key areas: irrigation and nutrient management, orchard and rootstock development, harvesting innovations, pest management tools, pollination research and management practices, biomass and by-product innovation. food safety, soil health, and energy.
The global marketing component will accelerate programs and results in current markets, enable consideration of additional markets for investment, increase communication transparency and trust, and continue to ensure confidence in the almond industry’s sustainability efforts.
A two-day strategic-planning workshop that included the Production Research as well as the Environmental Committee members and several board members helped identify the changing landscape and develop strategic research, policy, and outreach priorities as well as short-term, mid-range, and long-term goals.
The almond industry is investing in these efforts through an increase in its per-pound assessment for a three-year period to achieve these goals so that California almonds can remain a crop of choice for growers, consumers, and policy makers.
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