Technology and Tradition Come Together at Annual Environmental Stewardship Tour

Posted June 2nd, 2016

More than 56 attendees from local, state and federal regulatory agencies, along with media, elected officials, and other invited guests, saw first-hand how technology is helping fourth-generation almond grower, sheller, and packer Travaille & Phippen adapt to a changing regulatory and market landscape for California almonds.

The Almond Board’s 13th annual Environmental Stewardship Tour in May showcased current and future technologies for monitoring and applying irrigation water, fertilizers and integrated pest management to help the 1,500 acre, family-run operation farm sustainably.1

Host Dave Phippen and son-in-law Nick Gatzman said that while the roots of farming run deep at Travaille & Phippen, a vein of innovation permeates throughout.

“A lot has changed since we first hosted this tour 10 years ago, and this tour is an opportunity for us to showcase technology in our farming operation that allows us to be good stewards of the land,” Phippen said.

Nick Gatzman, who manages the day-to-day farming operations, demonstrated the advantages and challenges of applying water and nutrients through drip irrigation.  Due to its water efficiency, drip and micro-irrigation is used by 70 percent of almond growers, which makes the almond industry lead adapters of this technology.2

Gatzman also schedules how much and often to water his almond trees through a combination of soil moisture and climate monitoring systems that deliver information right to Gatzman’s cell phone. 

Travaille & Phippen is also routinely flying the ranch with fixed-winged aircraft to take aerial photos of the almond trees.  Infrared filters help Gatzman see where the trees are stressed, which helps with integrated pest management and fine-tuning irrigation.

“We are still learning how to use these tools. We are not so much using this technology to schedule our inputs as we are to see where we are doing things right and where we can improve,” Gatzman said.

Travaille & Phippen started incorporating drone technology last fall to better monitor orchard health, and is also looking at using ATVs to do the same at the ground level. Gatzman hopes to eventually use specific heat signatures from the technology to measure nutrient levels in the leaves, and perhaps replace cumbersome tree health readings to further increase water use efficiency.

While Travaille & Phippen is still testing the full capabilities of this technology, farmers have been innovating for hundreds of years and will continue to adapt and change to be even more sustainable. Backed by 40 years of Almond Board-funded research, the California almond community has a proven track record of continuous improvement. Learn where the almond community is headed next, with the Accelerated Innovation Management initiatives.


1California 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.
2California Almond Sustainability Program. Jan. 2014. California Department of Water Resources. California Water Plan Update 2013: Volume 3, Chapter 2. 


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