Sustainability1 was the overarching theme at the annual Almond Conference in December, with sessions dedicated to continuous improvement — including how attendees can apply new, research-based growing practices to improve their operations while reducing their footprint.
During Wednesday’s luncheon panel, Dr. Jeff Dlott from SureHarvest led a discussion focusing on what consumers want to know when it comes to food production and the environment, and what farmers are doing to ensure consumer confidence in sustainable almond production. Speakers at the panel included Daniel Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture at Campbell Soup Company, who shared evolving expectations of almonds as a food ingredient, Tess Wilkins, Vice President of general merchandise at Costco, who shared the point of view of a retailer interacting with customers, and Craig Duerr, director of global sales at Campos Brother Farms, who discussed the sustainability practices on his farm.
“We have to tell our story a lot better than we used to,” said Duerr. “What Campbell’s and Costco have in place today, 20 more retailers are going to ask for that within a year, so it’s not going to get any easier.”
Wilkins said the retailer is establishing relationships with farmers and processors throughout the world in an effort to connect members with the source of ingredients in Costco’s Kirkland Signature products.
“Consumers want to know where ingredients are coming from, how they were treated and who is responsible for growing and harvesting these products,” she said. “Costco has value and quality at its core, but transparency is also part of this dynamic system: Transparency about where the food is grown, its impact on the environment, labor policies, neighbors and food safety.”
With the discussion of sustainability finding its way into conversations throughout the day, the breakout session “Sustainability and Almonds: From the Orchard to the Shelf” took a closer look at how sustainable practices and requirements are reflected along the almond supply chain. Representatives from Almond Board of California (ABC), Dr. Gabriele Ludwig and Julie Adams, and other speakers at the session covered the ABC’s California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP). Panelists discussed how CASP can contribute to the education about sustainability practices and their implementation for those in the almond industry, and how the CASP program can help processors and farmers meet certification and verification requirements set by buyers and retailers.
Transparency, documentation and verification are the cornerstones of a successful sustainability program that reaches through the supply chain to consumers, speakers agreed.
“Almond growers can be innovators in this because of the programs already in place through CASP,” said Daniel Sonke, director of sustainable agriculture for Campbell Soup Co. “Campbell sees suppliers as innovation partners. But the documentation piece is going to be absolutely necessary.”
1 California Almond Sustainability Program definition: Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon scientific research, common sense and a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, nutritious, safe food product.