As we finish up the 2016 almond harvest, we are embarking on what we call a new “crop year” – meaning the time from harvest to harvest. The past crop year of Aug. 2015 – Aug. 2016, saw more than 1.8 billion pounds of almonds, 3.7 billion pounds of hulls, and 1.3 billion pounds of shell shaken from California’s almond trees.1
Almond trees, and the resources used to grow them, produce more than just the kernels we eat. The 5 billion pounds of hulls and shells referenced above have important uses too. Almond hulls are used as livestock feed, providing nutrition to local dairy cows and reducing the need to grow other feed crops, and shells, which go to various farming uses like livestock bedding.
As we begin to tally our harvest numbers for this crop year, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the Almond Boards highlights from the past 12 months.
Last year at about this time, a published study conducted by UC Davis researchers noted that almond farmers are currently offsetting about 50 percent of their carbon emissions with current growing practices.2 The industry is also researching farming innovations that can further increase offsets, which, hand in hand with policy changes, can propel the industry to be carbon neutral, or even carbon negative.
To harness the potential these innovations have, the Almond Board joined forces last September with the Environmental Defense Fund and others, to carry out a USDA pilot project designed to quantify air quality benefits of improved production practices, and give both almond and corn farmers access to greenhouse gas markets.
As harvest came to a close in October, the Almond Board announced new partnerships with Sustainable Conservation, Land IQ and UC Davis researchers, to explore the potential of California’s one million acres of almond orchards to recharge Central Valley vital groundwater aquifers, and ensure that groundwater storage is a policy priority.3
At the annual Almond Conference in December, the Almond Board launched the Accelerated Innovation Management program. This new initiative complements the Almond Board’s existing research programs by accelerating research on certain pressing almond sustainability issues, like water management and air quality. In unveiling this historic initiative, Almond Board President and CEO Richard Waycott said, “We are taking a pledge to accelerate change. This journey will not only lead our industry, but all of agriculture.”
As the holidays ended and New Year’s resolutions began, we were pleased to see that the new federal 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans spotlighted almonds as an essential nutrition resource, as well as highlighted the importance of eating a more plant-based diet.
As February rolled around, new research was published that may change the way almond trees are recycled at the end of their lives. Traditionally they have been used to create alternative energy in cogeneration plants, but this new research looks at the benefits of chipping the tree material and adding it back into the soil of almond orchards, mimicking the lifecycle of forests around the world. Stay tuned for more on this innovation in the coming year.
In February and March, our growers welcomed millions of honey bees into their orchards to pollinate billions of almond blossoms. The bees collected almond pollen – their first natural food source following winter – in the process to help produce this year’s crop.
In May we expanded our groundwater recharge research program, announcing a new partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that focuses on better understanding subsurface water storage, quality, and movement in relation to almond orchard groundwater recharge test sites. According to the Almond Board’s Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs, Dr. Gabriele Ludwig, “Preliminary analysis of almond acreage indicates that nearly 675,000 acres are moderately good or better in their ability to recharge groundwater, and the new research with Berkeley Lab will bring even more insight into the progress to date.”
And now here we are, at the beginning of a new crop year, harvesting the crops farmers have spent the past year diligently caring for. The California Almond Objective Measurement Report released in July forecasted 2.05 billion kernel pounds of almonds will be harvested, an increase from last year.4 While the farmers are busy in the orchard, we will continue to lead the charge on increased agricultural sustainability5 by utilizing 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.