Using Everything the Orchard Grows
The nutritious almonds we eat1 grow in a shell, protected by a hull, on a tree. The trees store carbon and are transformed into electricity at the end of their lives, the shells become livestock bedding, and the hulls are used as dairy feed. Nothing goes to waste. California almond farmers and processors have always taken responsibility for these coproducts—the hulls, shells and trees—getting the most out of the resources used to grow almonds and ensuring they’re put to beneficial use rather than sent to landfill.
With changing markets for these materials, the almond community is spurring innovation for higher value and more sustainable uses. In fact, by 2025, the California almond community commits to achieve zero waste in our orchards by putting everything we grow to optimal use. Given that almonds coproducts are widely utilized already, progress toward this goal focuses on reducing our environmental footprint and adding value economically and environmentally.
Almond trees capture and store a significant amount of carbon over their 25-year life cycle, and using the trees’ hulls, shells and woody biomass is key to reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact. Considering the inherent properties of trees and traditional uses of almond coproducts, current almond farming practices are offsetting about 50% of their carbon emissions.2 With further production improvements and policy changes, the California almond community could eventually be carbon neutral, or even carbon negative.
Within the larger context of food, researcher Dr. Alissa Kendall states, "California almonds have a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient-dense foods".
A Genuine Bioeconomy
The Almond Board of California is committed to new uses of almond coproducts that can support California in creating a genuine bioeconomy where every byproduct is an input for another valuable product. Research is investigating how components of almond hulls and shells can be transformed to provide value to other industries.
Just as when you transform a raw egg into a plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast, by changing the properties of coproducts using heat, fermentation, extraction and other processes, their components become valuable for alternative uses. Current research is exploring using almond hull and shell components as a growing medium for mushroom cultivation, producing feed sources for poultry and aquaculture, soil amendments for almonds and other crops, strengthening post-consumer recycled plastics, creating fuel—and even for brewing beer.
Mimicking Mother Nature
Healthy soils are vital to backyard gardens and almond orchards alike. Just as a tree falling in the forest provides nutrients to those around it, researchers are working on projects, funded by the Almond Board of California and the almond community, to explore the potential for recycling almond coproducts back into the soil and how that might affect orchard health.
One of those research projects is exploring a new practice known as whole orchard recycling. Almond orchards generally live for 25 years, during which the trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it as wood, a process known as carbon sequestration. This new orchard removal approach extends that carbon sequestration by storing it in the soil, using the woody biomass to build healthier soils3 and address climate change. Models show that recycling the orchard sequesters 2.4 tons of carbon per acre,4 equivalent to living car-free for a year.5
1. Good news about almonds and heart health. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces 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 grams) has 13 grams of unsaturated fat and only 1 gram of saturated fat.
2. Alissa Kendall, et al. “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.
3. Brent Holtz, et al. Whole almond orchard recycling and the effect on second generation tree growth, yield, light interception and soil fertility. VII International Symposium on Almonds and Pistachios. 2017.
4. Michael Wolff, et al. Whole Orchard Recycling report for the Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel. 2019.
5. Seth Wynes, et al. The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters. 2017.