Almond Board of California is celebrating its community by running occasional features on farmers, processors, and others who support the industry, highlighting their commitment to sustainability.1
Stanislaus County almond farmer Gordon Heinrich is a third-generation family farmer. Gordon's grandfather came to California’s Central Valley from Ohio in 1905 along with his three brothers. Together they raised dairy cows and farmed alfalfa and raisin grapes. In 1962, Gordon’s father planted the family’s first almonds.
Like over 90 percent of almond farms2, Gordon continues the family farming tradition with his sons who together own Heinrich Farms, just west of Highway 99 near Modesto, CA. Today they grow 650 acres of almonds, walnuts, corn, and alfalfa.
California is uniquely suited to growing almonds, and its farmers produce 80 percent of the world’s supply, supporting healthy, diverse diets across the globe. “This is the best place in the world to farm,” says Gordon. “The San Joaquin Valley has rich soils and an ideal climate.”
Carrying on his grandfather’s legacy, Gordon knows it’s important to develop efficient and environmentally responsible farming practices. Some of these practices are essential to preparing for the annual almond harvest season – the busiest time of the year for the California Almond community… and it is getting into full swing right now!
Gordon says when harvest begins each fall, it’s full speed ahead, so maintaining and adjusting equipment in advance, and following good farming practices all year long, helps make harvest more efficient and reduces impacts for those who live nearby.
California almonds are harvested by shaking the nuts to the ground where they dry naturally in the sun before being swept up and collected. To address the dust this approach can create, the California almond community is committed to evolving and improving all aspects of harvest. For Gordon, and California’s 6,800 almond farmers, this means:
- Prior to harvest, removing weeds and grass from the orchard rows and filling in holes. Preparing a clean, smooth orchard floor eliminates places where nuts can get stuck once they’ve been shaken to the ground, reducing the need for extra passes and the subsequent dust they can create.
- Adjusting existing harvest equipment to match orchard conditions and training operators to reduce speed and strategically planning the equipment’s path up and down orchard rows, reducing dust.
- Using dust inhibitors, water trucks, or even shells from last year’s harvest to reduce dust from unpaved roads and yards.
The California almond community has a long history of using research to evolve best practices and continuously challenges itself to do more. Through the Almond Board of California, farmers and processors have invested in a decade of research that has established practices like the ones to reduce impacts during harvest. What’s more, the almond community is re-envisioning its approach to harvest, accelerating long-term research that will result in cleaner air for all who live in the Central Valley. Some of the areas being explored include changing the structure and layout of almond orchards to implement harvest techniques similar to pistachios or grapes.
“With more almond acreage in the state and a compact harvest, it is really important for all of us to manage a timely harvest with well-maintained, efficient equipment to be sure we create as little dust as possible,” concludes Gordon. “We all want to be good neighbors.”
Follow along with this year’s almond harvest on social media with the hashtag #almondharvest.
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 91 percent of California almond farms are family farms. United States Department of Agriculture. 2012 Agricultural Census.