Almond Board of California (ABC) today announced an investment of $4.8 million in 64 independent, third-party research projects exploring next-generation farming practices. Additionally, ABC released the first annual Almond Sustainability Publication, entitled Growing Good, which highlights the California Almond community’s commitment to sustainability.
The announcement was made at the 45 annual Almond Conference, an event that convenes almond farmers and processors to dialogue with researchers about the latest science.
The California Almond community, through ABC, has invested nearly $70 million over 40 plus years to build a foundation of research on improving how almonds are grown, processed, and consumed. Growing Good highlights the industry’s continually evolving farming and processing best practices based on that research investment, which has built a foundation for continuous improvement that is helping almonds to be an economically, environmentally and socially responsible crop for California.
“Almond farmers’ growing practices and processors’ handling practices are rooted in science, and the almond industry has been investing in research that pushes the envelope and partnerships that break boundaries. This new sustainability publication highlights some of those efforts as well as programs that support responsible, efficient almond production,” said Almond Board Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs, Gabriele Ludwig.
“One of those programs is The Almond Conference. Over the next few days, thousands of attendees will attend fifty plus sessions, a bustling trade show and other events, all while networking with their peers and researchers. It’s key to continuous improvement.”
Launched in 1973, ABC’s research programs provide a scientific basis for best practices across several priority areas. Three of those key areas include water sustainability, protection of honey bees that pollinate the almond crop, and new uses of almond hulls, shells, and woody materials in an effort to use everything produced in the orchard; a zero waste approach. Each of these focus areas are highlighted in Growing Good.
Since 1982, California Almond farmers have committed $6.7 million to 201 different water research projects spanning irrigation efficiency, groundwater recharge, and water quality. Through production improvements and adoption of water efficient technologies, this investment has helped almond farmers reduce the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by 33% over the past 20 years. Of this year’s projects, 14 focus on water with an investment of $1.2 million.
The Almond Board’s investment in water sustainability includes this new project:
- Assessment of Water Status Using Inexpensive Thermographic Imagery, Lead Researcher: Brian Bailey, UC Davis – This new research project will explore the creation of a smartphone app and heat sensing platform to more precisely determine irrigation needs at any given time through leaf surface-and tree-temperature. The goal is to create a widely accessible tool for almond farmers to determine real-time irrigation needs and increase efficiency.
Honey Bee Health
Since honey bee health was made a strategic research priority of the Almond Board in 1995, the California Almond community has committed $2.6 million dollars in support of 113 projects that address the five major factors impacting honey bee health.
Research has also supported the development of orchard practices designed to keep bees safe during almond pollination. California Almond farmers added to that investment this year with six research projects totaling nearly $300,000, funding more honey bee health research than any other crop group.
A current project focusing on honey bee health is:
- Technical Transfer Teams Serving Commercial Beekeepers in Almonds, Lead Researcher: Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Bee Informed Partnership – Technical Transfer Teams are made up of traveling bee doctors who work with beekeepers to monitor hive health and advise on pest and disease treatment as necessary. Nationwide, they service 99 commercial beekeepers many of whose honey bees pollinate almonds each spring. Almond Board has funded Tech Transfer Teams in partnership with the Bee Informed Partnership since 2010, when the first team was formed. Results to date show that beekeepers participating in the program lost, on average, 36% fewer colonies than those commercial operations who did not participate.
Almonds grow in a shell, protected by a hull, on a tree, and the California Almond community has ensured that each of these coproducts is put to beneficial use through investment in 58 research projects since 1977, totaling $1.6 million. Nine studies have been funded this year with a commitment of $540,000 to determine how almond coproducts may address needs across food, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, automotive, and more.
“Almond Board of California, in collaboration with our industry partners, is working every day to bring profitable, innovative solutions for coproducts back to farmers and processors. Having a robust economic outlook while remaining committed to environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive, which is why I’m excited to be a part of this effort,” said Chico almond farmer and research collaborator, Rory Crowley.
For this year’s announcement, one of the research projects that will focus on innovative uses for almond coproducts is:
- Evaluation of Almond Shell and Soft Wood Derived Biochars as Soil Amendments, Lead Researcher: Sanjai J. Parikh, UC Davis – This new research project will explore utilizing almond shells to create different formulations of biochar, a soil amendment, evaluating their quality in a greenhouse setting. Should these products prove beneficial to soil and plant health, it has potential applications across agriculture, landscaping, or even in backyard gardens.
Almond Sustainability for the Future
Continued commitment to scientific research is helping the California Almond community grow the farm of the future, as reflected in Growing Good. The publication, the first of its kind for the Almond Board, highlights almond farmers’ and processors’ heritage of sustainability and commitment to continuous improvement, while shining a spotlight on key Almond Board programming supporting those goals. Key points of interest from the 2017 publication include:
- 50 percent of almond processors are utilizing solar energy at their facilities, according to a spatial analysis
- 78 percent of almond orchards today use efficient microirrigation, up from 70 percent in 2014
- 94 percent of almond farms coordinate with beekeepers about what pest control materials may need to be used during bloom and how the beekeepers will be notified in advance
“We are family farmers. For the most part, we live on our farms or very close by to them, raise our kids here and want them to inherit our farms and our companies,” said Almond Board President and CEO, Richard Waycott. “When we think about improving our industry across the myriad areas of opportunity, it also involves wanting to make a better environment for our children and grandchildren. Research investment plays a huge role in this future.”
Each research project is funded through an assessment paid per pound of almonds produced. Projects are selected by a committee of almond farmers and processors based on strategic alignment to industry needs and anticipated impact of the research, and after review by a research advisory group of independent experts who evaluated the proposals for scientific merit.