Almond industry explores sustainability

It seems everyone is claiming that the products they make or sell are “sustainable” or “green” nowadays. But what exactly is sustainability and what does it mean to California almond growers? Sustainability is about ensuring the health of a particular industry or company while also ensuring the health of the environment and local community.

With the help of Dr. Keith Warner, Director of the Faith, Ethics & Vocation Project at Santa Clara University's Environmental Studies Institute, the Almond Board of California (ABC) has created a working definition of sustainable almond farming. That definition was developed based on input from focus groups of almond farmers, PCAs, farm advisors and handlers, all of who unanimously agreed that the almond industry should continue to pursue the concept of sustainability.

“Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon both scientific research and common sense. It is motivated by a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, healthful and safe food product.”

In a broad sense almond growers already practice sustainable farming. As growers, especially of a perennial crop, the long-term health of the farming system has always been a key factor in the decision-making process. We would not have a thriving industry unless the long-term viability of the industry had not been a main consideration in making decisions — from the choice of production practices to what research to fund through the ABC.

Growers have readily adopted new production techniques to address new challenges based on results demonstrated through industry-funded research. Through programs such as the Almond Pest Management Alliance, the industry has long been at the forefront of adopting integrated pest management techniques, greatly reducing, for instance, their reliance on dormant sprays.

But new challenges continue to emerge. California growers face an increasingly complex web of considerations in how they produce their crops, particularly related to environmental regulations — water quality, air quality, greenhouse-gas emissions, endangered species, worker safety, food safety, energy, and usage.

In addition, fewer consumers today know where their food comes from or how it is grown. There is a greater public awareness of how production practices can have far-reaching impacts on the environment and society. You may or may not agree with the thinking or its scientific merit, but more and more consumers are seeking assurances that impacts on the environment and society have been considered in choices of agricultural production practices.

Sustainability, by taking a more holistic look, can be a tool in understanding the inherent trade-offs of choosing any particular production practice and its impacts on the bottom line, the environment and the community.

A range of outside organizations are also coming up with their own standards of sustainability to impose on growers. Thus, it is pertinent that we, through the ABC, continue to work on defining what sustainable almond growing means and how to provide growers, through research, the tools to help them understand the various trade-offs each decision can have.

The Almond Board of California is also developing partnerships with environmental groups, retailers, regulators and other grower groups working on issues related to sustainability. These efforts are all aimed at ensuring almonds remain a crop of choice for consumers, growers, and Californians.

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