By STEVE SCHOONOVER
MODESTO — The almond orchard of the future will use less water and pesticide, and generate less waste and harvest-time dust, if goals announced Thursday morning by the are met.
The goals are voluntary, but according to Almond Board Chair Holly King, “As a grower, each goal solves a problem or challenge, and creates an economic benefit.”
“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, a Stanislaus County farmer and chair of the Almond Board’s Harvest Workgroup.
He described the goals as a win-win: cost-savings at the ranch level while helping the environment.
The target year is 2025, and by then the board said it is seeking to create a sustainable future for almond farming that is ecologically sound, economically sound and socially equitable. Goals of that plan include:
WATER: A 20 percent reduction in water use, on top of the 33 percent reduction that has already been achieved in the past few years. That’s technologically achievable, according to Almond Board President and CEO Richard Waycott during a media call. “We have an innovative industry,” he said. Use of micro-irrigation, ground sensors and drones to make irrigation more precise were cited as ways to hit the goal
ZERO WASTE: The almond nut only amounts to 30 percent of the material produced in an orchard, with the rest being hulls, shells and woody biomass. There are already markets for those, and the plan calls for a “broad array of innovation” to make sure “everything in the orchard is put to an optimal use.”
CHEMICALS: A 25 percent reduction in pest control chemicals, using integrated pest management and an increasing number of “non-chemical tools” that have been developed.
DUST: A 50 percent reduction in the amount of dust generated during harvest. Part of the current harvest technique involves vacuuming up the nuts off the dirt floor of the orchard by a machine that expels clouds of dust. New technology is part of the solution, “but we need to be looking at the way we harvest,” said Waycott.
The Almond Board is a nonprofit funded by assessments on 6,800 growers and processors in California under a grower-approved federal marketing order. The board develops markets for the nuts and conducts research and promotes best practices for the industry.
It said it has spend $80 million on research since 1973. That includes 210 separate research projects toward more efficient water use and 120 on bee health.
Eighty percent of the almonds grown in the world are grown in California, according to the board.