June 12, 2023

Growing Good: How California’s Almond Growers Continue to Make Strides Towards a More Sustainable Future

California's almond farmers actively strive to reduce their impact on the environment and continue to revolutionize their industry towards sustainability. Discover the sustainable practices they employ to harmonize productivity with environmental stewardship, leading the way for a greener and more responsible future in agriculture.

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The almond farming industry in California has been working towards sustainability for almost five decades, recognizing the need for change and stepping up to the challenge of implementing innovative techniques and adopting responsible farming practices. 

The Almond Board of California, which represents around 7,600 almond growers and 99 processors in the state, has been a strong supporter of this endeavor. Through strategic market development, innovative research, and the adoption of industry best practices, the Almond Board empowers almond growers and processors, most of whom are multi-generational family operations, to cultivate their produce in an environmentally conscious manner. Almond farmers have been improving their practices and reducing their impact on the environment through various initiatives, such as increasing efficiency and overcoming common obstacles. In pursuit of their 2025 sustainability goals, Almond farmers continue to innovate and build on a foundation of generations of orchard management practices that prioritize sustainability. From implementing water conservation measures and zero waste practices to prioritizing the well-being of honey bees and making substantial economic contributions, almond growers are making strides towards sustainable agriculture and a more sustainable future for everyone.

Water Conservation: Getting The Most Out Of Every Drop

California has been facing significant water scarcity issues, making water conservation a top priority for almond growers. Building on past successes, these growers remain committed to further reducing water use. By implementing progressive irrigation methods and technologies such as micro-irrigation systems, precision irrigation, and soil moisture sensors, almond growers have achieved a remarkable 33% reduction in water use per almond between the 1990s and 2010s. With a goal of an additional 20% reduction by 2025, they are optimizing water distribution, minimizing waste, and maximizing efficiency.

In addition, collaboration efforts with researchers have led to the development of a drought-tolerant almond tree variety. Through this advancement, they aim to ensure better water management in the long run. The water conservation practices employed by the California almond industry serve as a global model for sustainable agriculture, addressing the shared challenge of water scarcity faced by farmers worldwide.

Soil Health and Biodiversity: Adopting Regenerative Farming Practices 

Maintaining soil health is crucial for sustainable agriculture, and almond growers in California employ techniques to promote natural soil fertility and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The following practices implemented by growers improve soil structure and enhance biodiversity by creating habitats for beneficial insects and wildlife. 

  • Cover cropping involves planting specific crops during the off-season to protect the soil, prevent erosion, and add organic matter when incorporated. 
  • Integrated pest management focuses on comprehensive pest control strategies that minimize harm to beneficial insects and wildlife, reducing the reliance on chemical pesticides. 

Bee Health and Pollinator Protection: Nurturing Almond Pollinators for a Balanced Ecosystem

Almonds rely heavily on honeybees for pollination. Recognizing this vital role honey bees play in pollinating their orchards, almond growers go beyond the flowering season to support bee health throughout the year and actively invest in practices that promote pollinator protection and overall hive health. Working closely with beekeepers, they ensure optimal hive health, diverse forage sources and minimize bee exposure to harmful pesticides during the flowering season. Many growers are also actively involved in research and education programs to help understand and protect bee populations, contributing to a balanced ecosystem. This ensures the long-term sustainability of almond production and the well-being of the wider environment.

Zero Waste and Environmental Benefits: Using Everything the Orchard Grows

The nutritious almonds we eat grow in a shell, protected by a hull, on a tree. As well as being a nutritious source of food, almond trees offer significant environmental benefits. They contribute to improved air quality by capturing and storing carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, as well as producing oxygen and acting as a natural filter to remove pollutants from the air, which has measurable health benefits. 

By 2025, the California almond community commits to achieve zero waste in orchards by putting everything they grow to optimal use. Almond trees produce co-products such as shells, hulls, and the trees themselves, all of which help to further reduce the carbon footprint of almond production. The hulls are used as animal feed, offsetting the need to grow other crops, and the shells are used as animal bedding. Nothing is left to waste. 

Farmers are also looking into new and more sustainable uses of almonds, with promising research underway in the areas of recycled plastics, fuel, regenerative agriculture, and more. One of these new approaches grinds up whole almond trees at the end of their productive life and returns the wood to the soil. This innovative practice, known as whole orchard recycling, not only reduces greenhouse gases, but also enhances soil health, improves water efficiency, and leads to increased yields, creating a win-win situation for sustainable agriculture.

California’s almond industry is predominantly comprised of family farms, with 90% of almond farms being run by third- and fourth-generation farmers who have a deep connection to the land and a strong desire to pass it down to future generations. While nearly 70% of these farms span 100 acres or less, the size does not diminish their long-term perspective on success, driven by their respect for the land and local communities. Regardless of farm size, all almond farmers share a common understanding that sustainable growth requires an unparalleled commitment to environmental responsibility, recognizing the reliance on natural resources for their livelihoods and the well-being of their families and neighboring communities.

To learn more about California Almonds, check out www.almonds.com