Sharing Some of What We've Learned about Agriculture and Energy

Posted April 3rd, 2015

At the end of March, the California Climate and Agriculture Network hosted its 4th California Climate and Agriculture Summit at the University of California, Davis.  The Summit “explores the science, policy and practice of climate change and sustainable agriculture in California.” It brought together farmers and ranchers, agency staff, technical service providers, policymakers and advocates concerned with climate change challenges and opportunities for California agriculture.

Because of the Almond community’s leadership in the field of Lifecycle Assessment – the measurement of a product’s resources used/output – our own Harbinder Maan was invited to deliver remarks at the summit. Harbinder offered an overview of the research we’re conducting in partnership with UC Davis and the Agricultural Sustainability Institute: why we chose to undertake this effort, how these assessments can be an important tool to help California famers reduce their carbon footprint, and what we’ve learned so far. We thought you might be interested in reading what she had to say:

Harbinder Maan, Almond Board of CaliforniaHarbinder Maan, Almond Board of California

Remarks by Harbinder Maan, Almond Board of California
As Prepared for Delivery to the CalCAN Summit
March 25, 2015

 

Why is the Almond Board investing in a Lifecycle Assessment? 

I want to start answering that question by reading you something a pair of our growers recently said – a father and a son – this was in a profile in Esquire Magazine: 

Daniel Bays says that farmers are sometimes portrayed as trying to suck every penny out of the earth: But “if you're doing that, you're not going to be in business very long. How much more of an environmentalist can you be than making your living off the land and looking for the long-term betterment of it?"

Then Daniel’s father Ken says: "We want to have something to leave for the next generation. And hopefully they can carry it on, and hopefully it will be carried on after that."

As many of you in this audience know, multigenerational, family farmers are at the heart of the almond growing community. So sustainability has long been inherent to how we do business.

In fact, for decades we’ve invested in research on production and environmental issues to continually evolve best practices on the farm. This year alone we’ve invested about $2.5 million dollars.

But we also began to notice in recent years that the conversation around sustainability among consumers, the media, farmers, everyone was becoming louder and more sophisticated. And so we knew if we wanted to both continue to really improve our practices and to be able to tell our story we needed data to go along with our investments.

In 2008/2009 the ABC started development of the California Almond Sustainability Program1. Its first task was to detail growing practices, be a learning tool for growers, and get down on paper a sense of the range or practices used by almond growers in the priority areas of: irrigation management, nutrient management, energy management, pest management and air quality. Again we knew we were doing a lot of the right things but we didn’t have the data to know exactly how – where we were doing the most good and where there was room for improvement.

Around that same time, energy was becoming an especially important issue for our growers because gas and energy prices were at an all-time high. So anything we could do to limit our energy use would not just help us live up to our sustainability goals, but help growers’ bottom lines – a win-win.

As part of our CASP work, we invited Dr. Alissa Kendall from UC Davis to talk about her LCA work and measurement of green-house gases,(aka carbon foot print) and energy. In listening to her it became clear that funding an LCA was critical for two reasons:

  1. Positive change starts with knowledge. LCA’s are comprehensive, science-based tools that that can help identify those areas where an industry can make the biggest impact.
  2. More and more retailers and other third parties are measuring their own carbon and energy impacts, and they want to know what’s happening downstream from their suppliers. In fact, it was around this time that retailers like Walmart were beginning to demand exactly this kind of information.

So what have we learned?

Let’s start with a couple things that surprised us:

  1. The degree to which water and energy are linked. Moving water takes energy and so there are important energy savings that come along with the steps we’re already taking to improve water efficiency – things like demand-based irrigation. 
  2. The offset to energy in the model provided by co-generation plants. Specifically the role tree bio mass plays to off-set GHG emissions from fossil fuel.

Second, by combining this sort of big picture analysis with the more farm-by-farm approach of the CASP program, it can be extremely useful at an individual grower level. That is: by identifying the large uses of energy a grower can compare their own practices with the most efficient practices. For example, they can compare their own farm to one that has (or doesn’t have solar panels) or think differently about how they dispose of biomass.

Third, if we impact GHGs we also impact air quality. Down the road this work may help us in looking at the carbon off-set market.

And finally: Now that we have this model we are discussing a next phase which would bring almonds nutrition into the mix and determine how to reflect that value. Almonds are, of course, a food rich in important nutrients, with research showing almonds role in heart health, diabetes and weight management. So this work will help us to advance the science to a point society can see what they will lose.

 


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.