Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Almond board wants to step up innovations

I'm on a call this afternoon with the Almond Board of California, which wants to step up the industry's farming efficiency and environmental stewardship. Here is the organization's press release.
Almond Board of California (ABC) today launched Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM), a major new strategic effort designed to make the almond industry even more efficient and sustainable.1 “Through our Accelerated Innovation Management program, the Almond Board will accelerate its investment in sustainability1, almond tree and farming research, and step up efforts to develop new partnerships and collaborations, which will drive four major initiatives to move the entire industry forward,” said Richard Waycott, President and CEO of the Almond Board of California. The four major initiatives are:

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, which builds on the 33 percent reduction in water used per pound of almonds achieved by the industry over the last 20 years1, includes a range of activities from working with farmers to fine tune irrigation techniques to adopting more advanced water management technologies.

Sustainable1 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 and water recharged through this program would benefit all Californians, not just farmers. A second part of this initiative will look for opportunities to recycle water from multiple sources, such as municipal wastewater, as a way of increasing overall water availability for farmers and all Californians.

Air Quality - Investigating various ways the almond industry can help meet the Central Valley’s exacting air quality standards. This will delve into the various ways 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 that impact air quality are under scrutiny. This initiative will identify alternatives that will result in cleaner air for all those who live in California’s Central Valley – farmers, their families, and surrounding communities.

22nd Century Agronomics - A recognition that we need to better understand and then adopt the technologies that will lead California farming into the 22nd century. Almond Board of California will lead a comprehensive exploration of almond farming techniques, bringing an exploratory mindset to consider all options as to what innovations and technical “leap frogs” will be needed to sustainably1 farm in the future. Each component of almond farming will be considered, from land preparation and varietal development, to equipment and processing.

Waycott noted significant progress already on two of the initiatives – Sustainable1 Water Resources and Air Quality -- and said that the industry will keep consumers and customers apprised of major research projects in these and the other initiative areas in the months and years ahead.

“Our recent partnership with Sustainable Conservation is exploring the potential of using California almond orchards for accelerated recharge of Central Valley groundwater. Research this winter will channel excess winter flood water into almond orchards in several test sites, including Merced, Stanislaus, and Fresno counties where a UC Davis study will track soil moisture and water movement, tree response, detailed root development and growth response,” Waycott said.

“On air quality, the Almond Board, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and others are carrying out a new USDA-funded pilot project designed to give both almond and corn growers greater access to greenhouse gas markets like those under California's cap-and-trade program,” Waycott said. The project builds on nearly ten years of funding by the Almond Board of California to improve nitrogen management and better understand greenhouse gas emissions, particularly nitrous oxide (N2O), from almond orchards.

The EDF project also dovetails with Almond Board-funded research to understand better 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 showed that the industry could become carbon neutral, or even negative, if policy changes and production advancements work hand-in-hand.2

“Farmers are innovators. Since almonds were first planted in California, over 150 years ago, almond growers have adapted, changed, and pushed ahead to improve best practices and develop new technologies. The Almond Board’s research programs have driven this innovation since their inception in 1973 and through this new program, we carry on and accelerate that important tradition,” Waycott said.

“We will make investments today that will put the entire industry in a stronger position 10, 20, or 30 years from now. Already a leader in the size and value of our crop to California, the AIM initiatives will take our industry’s leadership to the next level with innovation responsive to the changing California business and agricultural environment. Above all, we want Californians to know almonds are a desirable and high-value use of precious resources entrusted and allocated to growing food in California,” Waycott added.

AIM will complement the California almond industry’s legacy of continuous improvement through over 40 years of research. With a more nimble and adaptive program, AIM will implement commonsense guidelines, develop innovative practices and cultivate advanced technologies that will lead to continued improvement in efficient and sustainable1 farming.

“For decades, the Almond Board has invested millions of dollars in critical research leading to important advancements which continue to support almond growers as good stewards of the land,” Waycott said. “In fact, over the last two decades, industry-funded research overseen by the Almond Board has allowed farmers to reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent. Our research has also helped develop orchard practices that better promote healthy environments for honey bees and ensure the safety of workers, local communities and ecosystems. The California almond community understands the value of critical research, and we’re doubling down on this important work.”
Watch for my story at CapitalPress.com.

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