Consumers are taking a greater interest in understanding how and where their food is grown. As a result, the Almond Board of California has launched a task force to create and foster initiatives that will prepare the almond industry for a more sustainable future.
Richard Waycott, Almond Board president and CEO, says the effort to create the Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) program started a little over a year ago. “It came out of the realization that California agriculture is really passing through a threshold from where it’s been to where it’s going, and certain fundamental changes are occurring. Also, resources are being stretched like never before,” he says.
As an industry, California almonds are the largest in terms of farm gate value, and Waycott anticipates they could also be the largest in terms of acreage within the next couple of years. “We really have a responsibility to step up in terms of our leadership and also identify where the almond industry can really be a contributor to solution-making, or certainly contribute to helping California agriculture find its way forward,” he adds.
So far, the task force has come up with four initiatives:
- Water Management and Efficiency — Implementing irrigation guidelines and tools to further increase water efficiency.
- Sustainable Water Resources — Accelerating the recharge potential of the Central Valley and investigating new sources of water.
- 22nd Century Agronomics — Developing new technologies and optimizing almond agronomics into the 22nd century.
- Air Quality — Collaborating with equipment manufacturers to improve production and harvest impacts on air quality.
These first four initiatives are housed under the title of “accelerated innovation management,” Waycott says, “because we really want to accelerate our activity, our investment, and the resources we’re going to put behind these initiatives.”
He’s quick to note, though, that the Almond Board can’t go it alone, so they’re working on developing partnerships along the way. A formal relationship has already been established with Sustainable Conservation for the groundwater recharge project. Research has also begun with the Environmental Defense Fund regarding greenhouse gas and air quality.
Waycott adds that there’s money to back up these initiatives, too. “We worked with the board and established some pretty significant budget allocations, and we have been moving ahead as expeditiously as possible,” he says.
Some of the initiatives have specific timelines in place, while others will be ongoing. For example, late last year, an irrigation continuum was launched to bring everybody in the industry up to a minimum standard in terms of irrigation efficiency practices. This initiative is expected to be ongoing.
Trials for the groundwater recharge project are underway this winter, which will determine the agronomic impacts of putting recharge water on orchards and answer questions such as how much water, for how long, and how often. Waycott hopes these questions will all be answered in the next one to two years.
Another longer-term initiative will focus on air quality in the Valley. “We’re really going to take a very out-of-the-box, almond-orchard-of-the-future-type look at our harvesting practices to see how we can get out of the dust-creation business, or certainly minimize it a great deal,” Waycott says.
He adds that this initiative will focus not just on harvesting equipment but on tree canopy and architecture, as well.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Waycott expects new initiatives to be launched down the line.
“As we work through these different initiatives, we’ll be keeping everyone informed of the results and how we’re going to drive adoption in the industry,” he says.