Five Questions with the Almond Board of California

From foodtank.com, by Almond Board of California
Five Questions with the Almond Board of California

Food Tank, in partnership with American University, is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016. 

This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, farm workers, and more. 

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to interview the Almond Board of California, one of the sponsors of the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What initiatives have you launched recently, or are planning to launch, that will further your company’s sustainability efforts?

Almond Board of California (ABC): Through the Almond Board of California (ABC), California's almond community has been investing in research on topics related to almonds' sustainability for several decades, with a total investment of more than US$50 million to date. This has resulted in an abundance of knowledge about best practices and continual improvement as an industry.

In addition, as we weighed what research topics we should most prioritize and accelerate, we recently launched the Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) initiative, which will help us fast-track investments in sustainability, almond tree farming research, and partnerships and collaborations. The four major AIM initiatives are:

  • Water Management and Efficiency: A focus on accelerating almond farmer transition to more efficient irrigation scheduling and management practices to get the most crop per drop of water. This initiative, which builds on the 33-percent reduction in water used per pound of almonds achieved by the industry over the last 20 years, includes a range of activities from working with farmers to fine-tuning irrigation techniques to adopting more advanced water management technologies.
  • Sustainable Water Resources: An exploration of how to best leverage a strength of the California almond industry—its acreage—for accelerating natural flood-year groundwater recharge of aquifers. Through a partnership with leading environmental organization Sustainable Conservation, University of California, Davis, and Land IQ, this extensive program will benefit the greater community by returning water to underground aquifers, which are collectively California’s largest water storage system.
  • Air Quality: Investigating various ways the almond industry can help meet the Central Valley's exacting air quality standards. This effort will delve into the various ways almond production impacts air quality and evaluate opportunities to decrease emissions.
  • 22nd Century Agronomics: With a recognition that we need to better understand and then adopt the technologies that will lead California’s farming into the 22nd century, ABC will lead a comprehensive exploration of almond farming techniques, bringing an exploratory mindset to consider all options as to what innovations and technical "leap frogs" will be needed to sustainably farm in the future.

FT: What drives you and your company to push for sustainability?

ABC: Almond growers have grown up and raised their own families on the land and recognize that in order to preserve their way of life for future generations, they have to farm responsibly.

Over 90 percent of California almond farms are family farms, and nearly three-quarters are less than 100 acres, owned in large part by third- and fourth-generation family farmers. Almond growers recognize the need to carefully manage resources for current and future generations and offer continued work for their employees without negative impacts on their families, neighbors, and local communities.

As well, almond growers tend to be forward-thinking business people, and they know that just as they’ve supported research for the past 20 years that has helped build awareness of almonds’ great nutrition and health benefits, they also need to build the industry’s presence as a leader in sustainability. Consumers’ desire to eat sustainably, and farmers’ genuine need to farm sustainably – these are vital things to address to ensure a bright future for the industry.

FT: Do you have any enlightening stories to share of collaboration between your business and other businesses or organizations that have changed your business practices?

ABC: Partnerships play a key role in the ABC mission. Over the years, collaboration with a variety of partners has produced tangible, innovative results in farming and production practices. And almond growers, in particular, have an important partnership with the honey bee—without bees, there simply would be no almonds (or apples, cherries, melons, or pumpkins!).

In October 2014, the ABC published Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs), which garnered praise from leading bee health experts. Developed with a wide array of input from sources including the almond community, beekeepers, researchers, California and United States regulators, and chemical registrants, the recommendations lay out simple, practical steps that almond growers can take together with beekeepers and other pollinator stakeholders to protect and promote bee health. The adoption of the BMPs in almond orchards has been a key part of the industry’s work in honey bee health, implementing standard protocols for honey bee arrival into orchards, pesticide use, and considerations aimed at honey bee safety.

Our honey bee collaborations are supported and strengthened on both sides, with partners including:

  • Honey Bee Health Coalition
  • Project Apis m.
  • Bee Informed Partnership
  • California State Beekeepers Association
  • American Beekeeping Federation
  • American Honey Producers Association
  • North American Pollinator Protection Campaign

FT: What was a turning point in your company and why?

ABC: The historic California drought—which is better this year, but not complete—has certainly highlighted the need to be as efficient as possible with water, whether it’s for environmental, agricultural, or residential use. ABC has taken an active role in responding to misconceptions about almonds’ water usage and sharing simple facts that communicate the latest research and sustainability initiatives.

FT: What three things do you want your customers to know about your company?

ABC: All food takes water to grow. Almonds are not a particularly “thirsty” crop. An almond tree uses about the same amount of water as any other California fruit or nut tree.

Almonds are a nutritious and sustainable crop. Almond trees grow more than just nutritious almonds—besides the kernels we love to eat, almond hulls are valuable livestock feed, reducing the amount of land and water that would otherwise be used to grow other feed crops. And almond shells go to alternative farming uses like livestock bedding. According to a recent study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, the utilization of these coproducts currently helps to offset about 50 percent of the almond industry’s carbon emissions. We’re now researching ways to grow that number.

Almond growers are innovative in adopting water efficiency measures. For decades, California almond growers have shown their adaptability by investing in scientific research and new technologies to drive sustainability, water efficiency, productivity, and environmental responsibility. These efforts have helped growers cut the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent since 1994. 

To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the livestream HERE.

To join us at Food Tank's São Paulo, Brazil Summit in September 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Sacramento, CA Summit on September 22–23, 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Chicago, IL Summit on November 16–17, 2016, please click HERE

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

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Want to watch videos from last year's Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. include: Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Chaia DC, Chipotle, Clif Bar, D.C. Government, Driscoll's, Edible DC, Elevation Burger, Fair Trade USA, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Global Environmental Politics Program of the School of International Service, Greener Media, Inter Press Service, Leafware, Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, Panera Bread, and VegFund. 

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