What is #AlmondSustainability?
Did you know one serving of almonds is 23 kernels? To celebrate our community’s responsible farming practices, we’re sharing 23 bite-size pieces of information about growing almonds sustainably.1
Follow along here, and through #almondsustainability on social media, as we highlight topics across the Almond Board of California’s (ABC) sustainability ecosystem!
Kernel 23: Unconventional Alliances for Sustainable Solutions
Through a USDA-funded pilot project, and based on years of almond industry-funded research, Environmental Defense Fund is investigating how almond growers can fine-tune their nutrient management practices to gain access to greenhouse gas markets like those under California’s cap-and-trade program.
By participating in this market-based system, farmers are financially incentivized to adopt farming practices shown to reduce climate change impacts from greenhouse gases.
Finding the Middle Ground Between Sustainability and Profitability
From EDF’s Growing Returns Blog: California’s new nitrogen assessment highlights promising solutions for reducing fertilizer losses
USDA Funds New Pilot Project to Help Almond Growers Gain Greater Access to Greenhouse Gas Markets
Kernel 22: California Water Distribution
Between California’s recent drought and this year’s historic rain and snowfall, water in California can be a matter of extremes. Even in normal years, a majority of California’s rain and snow falls in the northern half of the state while most of the people live in the south, with farms scattered throughout.22 What’s more, rain and snow typically arrive through winter storms while the water is needed most during the hot, dry summer months.
For more than 100 years, Californians have developed and relied upon water infrastructure to effectively capture and transport water where it is needed throughout the year and to store for dry years. All Californians, not just farmers, rely on water that is captured, stored, and transported around the state.
Each year, that water is managed and distributed across a variety of beneficial uses. On average, 10 percent of California’s water goes to cities and urban areas, while 40 percent is used to growing food, producing over 50 percent of the United States’ fruits, nuts, and vegetables. The other 50 percent is water devoted to environmental uses – things like maintaining healthy river ecosystems, wetlands, and more.23
Kernel 21: Growing More Than Nutrition
An acre of almond trees grows 450 pounds of protein, 260 pounds of fiber, and “good” monounsaturated fats which helps keep almond lovers energized and satisfied.18,19 In addition to the significant human health benefits, almond orchards grow environmental benefits too.
Almond trees benefit air quality by capturing and storing carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas.20 They also produce oxygen and act as a natural filter, cleaning pollutants from the air, with measurable health benefits. Nationally, on average, an acre of trees is associated with $11 in annual averted health costs.21
Kernel 20: Fine-tuning to Improve Air Quality
California Almond farmers harness the power of the sun to dry down their almond crop to the perfect crunch we all know and love. This means that after the almonds are harvested from the trees, they rest on the orchard floor for several days, and then they must be swept up – a process that can create dust.
The California Almond community is committed protecting air quality, which is why ABC has funded a decade of research to determine how best to fine-tune harvest equipment and adjust practices to reduce impacts. Those findings have been translated into guidelines, toolkits, and educational videos used by farmers and others involved in almond harvest.
What’s more, one of the four major goals of ABC’s Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) program is identifying innovations that will result in cleaner air for all Californians. Progress is underway, working with almond harvest equipment manufacturers, researchers, and others, to reimagine what the almond harvest of the future could look like, along with developing more near-term improvements to current equipment.
Kernel 19: Supporting A Healthy Diet
With its cool winters and hot summers, California’s Central Valley offers unique and ideal growing conditions for many diverse crops that are eaten in a “Mediterranean diet,” including our favorite -- almonds.
The Mediterranean diet reflects a traditional eating pattern found in the countries of the Mediterranean region of Europe. This style of eating is plant-forward, emphasizing fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and whole grains, with small amounts of meat and low-fat dairy products. There are health benefits to this type of diet: the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that strong evidence shows that healthy eating patterns, like the Mediterranean-style eating pattern, are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Almonds, other tree nuts and olives are grown in California, one of the few places with a Mediterranean climate outside of the Mediterranean itself. California almond farmers are committed to growing a food that’s not only good for you, but also produced in a way that’s responsible.
Adopting and Protecting the Mediterranean Diet
Make It Mediterranean for Good Health
Shifting towards a Mediterranean Diet in the US: How Far Do We Have to Go, What Are the Potential Health Benefits and Can We Get There?
Kernel 18: Irrigation Technology First Adopters
A key component of water efficiency that helped achieve the 33 percent reduction in the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds15 was the California Almond community’s adoption of microirrigation systems. Today, almond farmers report using microirrigation in more than 70 percent of orchards —this is well above the California state average of 42 percent of farms, statewide.16, 17
Microirrigation systems are designed to conserve water by applying it directly to where the crop needs it, rather than the entire field, with added benefits of decreasing water runoff, minimizing waste, and allowing for precise timing and rate of irrigation.
Kernel 17: Research Supports Creation of Genuine Bioeconomy
Just like when you transform a raw egg into a plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast by adding heat, you can do the same to almond coproducts like hulls and shells to create new components that can provide immense value to other industries. Current ABC-funded research is looking at creating materials from almond hulls and shells that can be incorporated into cosmetics, food, fuel and plastics.
This research is reviewing a range of potential applications for almond coproducts, including extracting sugar from almond hulls, the use of those hulls after sugar extraction, and the use of almond shells to create biodegradable plastics. Not only does this help California in its work to create a genuine bioeconomy - where every byproduct is an input to another valuable product – it can also create economic benefits through higher value uses of almond coproducts and the creation of new rural jobs.
Cosmetics, Pharmaceuticals and Plastics: The Future of Almond Coproducts
Using Everything the Orchard Grows: Our Commitment to Zero Waste
Almond Board Explores Alternative Uses of Almond Coproducts
Kernel 16: Building California’s Economy
California grows more than 80 percent of the world’s almonds, and in doing so creates jobs and strengthens the state’s economy.
According to a study from the UC Davis Agricultural Issues Center the California Almond industry supports California’s economic well being by generating more than 100,000 jobs, 97,000 of which are located within the Central Valley, an area with high unemployment. In addition, the industry generates more than $21 billion gross revenue across all industries in the state, adding about $11 billion dollars to the size of the state’s total economy.14
Kernel 15: Using Everything the Orchard Grows
Did you know that almond trees grow multiple products? In addition to the kernel that we eat, almond coproducts include the almond hull, which is used to feed livestock, and the shells, which are used as livestock bedding. Even the trees are recycled at the end of their productive lives to create alternative energy or to improve soil quality.
In addition, almonds are not sold with skins, pits, and peels. This means that the industry, not the consumer, is responsible for and able to take advantage of high-value, beneficial uses of the hulls, shells, and woody material, rather than sending them to landfill.
Kernel 14: A Roadmap to Irrigation Improvements
The Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum has something to offer every almond farmer, regardless of their irrigation management sophistication. Developed in partnership with technical experts from University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and based on decades of Almond Board-funded research, the continuum’s purpose is to accelerate adoption of research-based, commercially available and more water-efficient irrigation practices and technology.
What’s more, in 2016 ABC hired an expert in irrigation and water efficiency to work with farmers in the field and to help everyone improve their practices.
Kernel 13: Partnering for Pollinator Health
Honey bees are essential to global food supply, agriculture and to the vitality of the almond community, so it’s a priority to keep them happy and healthy. ABC is a leader in the honey bee health conversation, funding more honey bee health research than any other crop group13 and working with universities, government agencies, non-profits, and beekeeping groups alike.
Kernel 12: Diversifying California’s Water Supply
California Almond farmer Jim Jasper has been closely involved in a program exploring treating and recycling wastewater for agricultural use.
The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, a collaborative partnership between cities and the Del Puerto Water District, is sending triple-treated wastewater to some 200 family farms along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Once complete, the recycled water will be transported via pipelines to the Delta-Mendota Canal where farmers in the Del Puerto Water District will put it to use growing food including almonds.
Kernel 11: Can Growing Almonds Fight Climate Change?
When you eat almonds, you’re choosing more than just a highly nutritious food.9 A University of California Davis study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology found that California’s 130 million almond trees10 absorb and store significant amounts of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, throughout their lifespan, and the utilization of almond coproducts (hulls, shells and the trees’ woody biomass) is key to reducing carbon emissions and the industry’s environmental impact.11
Should production advances and policy changes work hand in hand, the California Almond community could become carbon neutral or even carbon negative. At present, 50 percent of the industry’s carbon emissions are offset by the trees’ inherent carbon storage and current farming practices.12
Within the larger context of food, researcher Dr. Alissa Kendall states, “California Almonds have a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient-dense foods.”
Kernel 10: Replenishing Aquifers
Groundwater is a vital resource in California but too much reliance on it means that many of the state's groundwater aquifers are under pressure, or in decline. One of the ways groundwater can be replenished is through managed on-farm groundwater recharge. To understand how California’s one million acres of almond orchards can be part of this sustainable solution, ABC has partnered with researchers from UC Davis, Sustainable Conservation, Land IQ, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and almond farmers to investigate.
Preliminary analysis indicates that 675,000 acres of California Almonds are moderately good or better in their ability to recharge groundwater based on soil and subsoil characteristics.8
Kernel 9: The Ideal Mediterranean Climate
Mediterranean climate zones are scattered across the globe (including California!) and they’re the perfect place to grow almonds. Thanks to its ideal climate, rich soil, water availability and infrastructure, and innovative technology and research, California is the most productive almond growing region in the world. With its cool wet winters and hot dry summers, California offers ideal growing conditions for almonds and produces the most crop per acre of land.
Kernel 8: Accelerating Improvement Through Research
Featuring bold new partnerships -- and nimbler than ABC’s traditional research program -- the Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) program consists of four major initiatives designed to meet the future needs of the California Almond industry while benefiting local communities and the environment. They include water management + efficiency, sustainable water resources, air quality an 22nd century agronomics.
The California Almond community, through ABC, has been investing in research since 1973. To continue to help farmers navigate complex challenges, this year ABC committed $4.7 million in 82 independent, third-party research projects exploring next-generation farming and sustainability practices.
ABC Continues Commitment to Research with New $4.7M Investment
AIM Initiatives: The Future of Almond Farming
Almond Industry Launches Major Strategic Effort to Accelerate Innovation and Sustainability
Kernel 7: Farming for the Next Generation
According to the most recent USDA Agricultural Census, there are around 6,800 California Almond farms, over 90 percent of which are family farms,7 many owned and operated by third- and fourth-generation farmers who live on the land and plan to pass it down to their children and grandchildren. Almond farmers recognize the need to carefully manage resources for current and future generations, and offer continued work for their employees while protecting their families, neighbors, local communities and the environment.
One of these families is the Bays family – three-generations of California farmers who work together each day to implement sustainable practices across their 2,000-acre ranch. In addition to almonds, they Bays’ grow almonds, apricots, tomatoes, and lima beans.
California Almond Farmers infographic
Innovation and Sustainability is Second Nature For Three Generations of Bays Ranch Family
Society of Environmental Journalists Tours Almond Orchard
Esquire Magazine: Bays Ranch Family Profile
Kernel 6: Irrigation Research Improves Efficiency
California Almond farmers are innovators in water-use efficiency, largely due to years of Almond Board-funded research. In fact, almond farmers have adopted efficient microirrigation at nearly two-times the rate of California farmers.4,5
ABC began investing in irrigation research in the early 1980s and has since committed $4.4 million to 182 different irrigation research projects. Through this research, California Almond farmers have reduced the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent since 1994.6
Kernel 5: Pursuing Transparency and Accuracy
As an organization and industry rooted in research, ABC is always pursuing the highest degree of accuracy when it comes to almond information. That’s why we’ve partnered with Land IQ, an agricultural and environmental research and consulting firm, to develop a comprehensive, living map of California Almonds, orchard-by-orchard.
This comprehensive mapping analysis opens up new possibilities by improving the precision, accuracy, and transparency of information about the almond community. Understanding the impacts and opportunities of almond production is fundamental to responsible resource management and planning for the sustainable future of California agriculture.
For instance, preliminary analysis indicates that 675,000 acres of California Almonds are moderately good or better in their ability to recharge groundwater based on soil and subsoil characteristics.3
Kernel 4: Water Conservation Through Infrastructure Innovation
The South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s (SSJID) award-winning pressurized irrigation pilot project is helping almond farmers in the area grow more crop per drop. In the system, water is distributed across 3,800 acres using 19 miles of pressurized pipelines – contrasted with traditional canals – that allows local farmers to apply the water exactly when their crops need it, rather than a pre-determined schedule, based on the movement of water through canals. Because the system is pressurized, it also allows for the use of efficient microirrigation systems that distribute water directly to where the trees need it, rather than to the entire orchard floor.
The SSJID pressurized system conserves 12,000 acre-feet of water per year, equivalent to the annual water use of 76,800 people.2
Many California Almond farms fall within the pilot project area and those farmers, like Matt Visser, are able to schedule their irrigations from anywhere in the world through the use of smartphones and tablets, and improve water efficiency through microirrigation systems.
Almond Community Profile: Matt Visser
SSJID Pilot Project factsheet: Maximizing the Crop Per Drop
South San Joaquin Irrigation District Water Delivery System Recognized with Grand Award for Engineering Excellence
Kernel 3: Mimicking Mother Nature
California Almond growers are finding new ways to make the most of the woody tree material produced by the removal of old orchards, including returning the wood back to the soil – much like a mulch. This new approach seeks to mimic the ultimate sustainable system – Mother Nature – by following the lead of forests across the globe, which are fueled by fallen logs and their decomposing woody material.
Known as whole orchard recycling, this technique grinds up entire almond orchards at the end of their mature life, incorporating each tree back into the soil. This can return valuable nutrients to the soil ecosystem, increase water infiltration and water holding capacity, and slow the rate at which carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, prolonging the carbon sequestration benefits that trees bring to our planet.
Research trials are underway to fully understand the benefits, as well as any risks, of whole orchard recycling for all California Almond orchards.
Kernel 2: Continuous Improvement
California Almond farmers, like the Weststeyn family of White Crane Ranch, are continuously adopting new technology and practices. Over the course of farming almonds for nearly 30 years, the Weststeyns have adopted many sustainable practices that work in harmony -- among these are natural weed and erosion control, honey bee nutrition, and precision irrigation technology and practices.
Kernel 1: Protecting Bees During Bloom and Beyond
Almonds need bees and bees rely on almonds, too. ABC is committed to encouraging working partnerships between almond farmers and beekeepers for a successful and sustainable pollination and bloom season.
To support farmers in protecting both their crop and the honey bees, almond industry-funded research, along with information from universities, government agencies and non-profits, informed ABC’s Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds. These bee-friendly guidelines help everyone involved in the pollination process by providing recommendations ranging from making an orchard a safe home for honey bees, to how to treat for pests and disease without harming bees.
Almond Community Profile: Farmer Sonny Johns and Beekeeper Andy Angstrom
The Mutually Beneficial Relationship Between Bees and Almonds
Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds
Introduction: One Serving of Sustainability
California Almond farmer and Almond Board of California staffer Danielle Veenstra talks about her family’s farm and what sustainability means to the California Almond community.
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.
2 Stantec. Maximizing the Crop Per Drop: SSJID Pilot Project. 2015.
3 Land IQ. Groundwater Recharge Suitability Analysis. November 2015.
4 California Almond Sustainability Program. Jan. 2014.
5 California Department of Water Resources. California Water Plan Update 2013. Oct. 2014.
6 University of California. UC Drought Management. Feb. 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 66 – Crop yield in response to water. 2012. Almond Board of California. Almond Almanac 1990-94, 2000-14.
7 USDA. 2012 Census of Agriculture. Oct. 2014.
8 Land IQ. Groundwater Recharge Suitability Analysis. November 2015.
9 Good news about almonds and heart health. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of almonds (28 g) has 13 g of unsaturated fat and only 1 g of saturated fat.
10 USDA-NASS. 2015 California Almond Acreage Report. Apr. 2016. USDA-NASS. 2016 California Almond Objective Measurement Report. Jul. 2016
11 Kendall, A., et al. Life Cycle–based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part I: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19: 1008–1018.
12 Marvinney, E., et al. Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part II: Uncertainty Analysis Through Sensitivity Analysis and Scenario Testing. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2015, 10.1111/jiec.12333.
13Gene Brandi. Vice President, American Beekeeping Federation.
14University of California, Agricultural Issues Center. The Economic Impacts of the California Almond Industry. Dec. 2014.
15University of California. UC Drought Management. Feb. 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 66 – Crop yield in response to water. 2012. Almond Board of California. Almond Almanac 1990-94, 2000-14.
16California Almond Sustainability Program. Jan. 2014.
17California Department of Water Resources. California Water Plan Update 2013. Oct. 2014.
18USDA-ARS, NDL. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Version Current: September 2015, slightly revised May 2016.
19USDA-NASS. 2015 Almond Acreage Report. Apr. 2016.
20Kendall A, Marvinney E, Brodt S, Zhu W. Life cycle-based assessment of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in almond production. Part 1: Analytical framework and baseline results. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 2015.
21Nowak, D., et al. Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States. Environmental Pollution. 193: 119-129. May 2014.
22Public Policy Institute of California. California’s Variable Climate. http://www.ppic.org/main/mapdetail.asp?i=1093
23California Department of Water Resources. California Water Plan Update, 2013.