By Bob Highfill
The Almond Board of California announced new goals to substantially improve sustainable farming practices in key areas by 2025.
Almond Orchard Goals 2025 focuses on reducing the amount of water to grow almonds, achieving zero waste in the orchards, increasing environmentally friendly pest management tools and reducing dust during harvest.
The goals are voluntary for farmers to adopt, and the almond board will evaluate progress on a continual basis. The goals build on past sustainable farming initiatives meant to ensure the future of an industry that has multi-generation families at its core.
“We’re an industry of family farmers,” said Holly King, chair of the Almond Board of California during a conference call Thursday. “Ninety percent of our almond farms are family farms, so we are vested in the communities in which we live.”
Almonds are big business in the state and especially in San Joaquin County.
California produces 80 percent of the world’s supply of almonds, and in 2017, San Joaquin County had 74,200 bearing acres of almonds worth $362.7 million, according to the county’s agriculture commission. The California Almond Board’s 2017 annual report states nearly 75 percent of California almond farms are 100 acres or less. King said large or small, California’s almond farmers have taken a long-term view of success based on their respect for the land and local communities.
“We believe it’s important to do the right thing and be conscious about how we’re using and managing resources,” King said.
For instance, over the past 20 years, California almond farmers have reduced the amount of water used to grow one pound of almonds by 33 percent through improved production practices and micro irrigation, according to cited reports from the University of California, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Almond Board of California. The new rules seek to decrease water usage an additional 20 percent.
The 2025 rules call for innovation in finding higher value uses for almond byproducts, such as hulls, shells and woody branches, so that everything grown goes to optimal use. The new rules call for a 25 percent increase in the use of environmentally friendly pest management tools, such as beneficial insects, habitat removal, mating disruption and, when necessary, pesticides, to further protect orchards, employees and communities. And the rules call for farmers to reduce dust during harvest by 50 percent.
“We try to be a good steward of the land by doing more with less — less inputs, less applications, less trips into the field, obviously less water,” said Brian Wahlbrink, chair of the Almond Board’s Harvest Workshop and an almond grower in Stanislaus County. “These goals will help drive us to substantive improvements, building on past achievements and sharing our progress as we work toward 2025. I am very confident in where we are going.”
California almond farmers continue to support research in other areas critical to success, such as investing in seven new projects focused on honey bee health this year alone. The board has adopted a comprehensive set of Honey Bee Best Management Practices that are widely adopted and evolving to ensure the safety of honey bees during pollination and beyond.
“By working collectively toward the Almond Orchard 2025 Goals and key areas, such as bee health, we are ensuring that we can farm here in California for the long haul,” Richard Waycott, Almond Board of California president and CEO, said. “That means taking care of the land to the best ability we can and farming responsibly.”