How We Grow

2019 Nov/Dec How We Grow

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AROUND THE WORLD 15 Setting the Table for a Global Sustainability Conversation Imagine a future when "California Almonds" is synonymous with "the world's most responsibly-grown commodity." Fast-forward to a time when California almond farmers are heralded for their sustainable farming practices, rather than being questioned about water use; a time when our sustainability story gives us a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. That was the vision of industry leaders meeting more than a decade ago to develop the California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP). "As the saying goes, 'If you're not at the table, you're on the menu,'" said Julie Adams, vice president of Global Technical and Regulatory Affairs at the Almond Board. "CASP didn't just earn us a seat at the table. CASP makes it our table!" Thanks to the foresight of industry leaders more than a decade ago, the California almond industry has 10 years of data needed to set benchmarks for grower adoption of practices like microirrigation, winter sanitation and pollinator protection. CASP data provided the baselines by which to set the Almond Orchard 2025 Goals and will be key to measuring progress in the future. The data also indicates where there are opportunities for increased efficiencies on almond production. It also provides a compelling picture to our global customers that California almonds are grown responsibly. "The foundation of CASP is setting our own standards for the way we grow almonds in California, by people who know how to grow almonds in California," explains Adams. "A lot of the global standards are developed to address issues in other commodities in other countries." "CASP allows us to start the conversation in a positive place. It puts us in a strong position to talk about our past achievements and where we're going." Setting the table for a constructive conversation Agriculture is under pressure to produce more with less. As the global population grows, the amount of arable land is shrinking. At the same time, backlash against the use of technology like genetic modification in food production is increasing. Concerns about climate change are driving an evolving regulatory environment and global food companies are responding to consumer demand for safe and healthy food that is grown responsibly with a multitude of demands on their suppliers. "There are a lot of questions about how to address consumer demands and companies are thrilled to have a supplier develop a program that provides answers," said Adams. "Similar to food safety and the pasteurization program, CASP gives us the latitude we need to establish standards based on what works for almond growers in California." In 2018, the Almond Board worked with SureHarvest, the third-party organization which administers CASP, to benchmark the program against the global Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA). Laying CASP and California regulatory requirements side-by-side with the FSA, CASP benchmarked at the FSA 2.1 Gold level. Benchmarking to SAI means growers who complete CASP assessments can demonstrate their equivalence to FSA parameters without having to complete more paperwork. "Part of the reason we benchmarked so high with SAI is because we can show that we meet so many requirements simply because we are growing in California," explains Adams. "For example, while CASP does not include some of the social issues requirements of SAI, such as worker conditions, we were able to show that the regulatory environment in California addresses those issues and allows us to check those boxes." The global sustainability conversation In the 10 years since the launch of the California Almond Sustainability Program, the global sustainability conversation has dramatically impacted the world of food and agriculture. From blaming cows for global warming to shaming almonds during the drought, agriculture has been implicated as a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. Fortunately for California almonds, the table has been set to have a constructive conversation. "More and more, customers are paying attention to which companies seem to be doing right by their people and the environment — and punishing brands that fall short," explains the Drucker Institute's Rick Wartzman. "Socially conscious investors have started putting vast sums "Benchmarking to SAI gold is hugely respected by trade. We can now go into meetings with the companies and have fact- based conversations with their sustainability officer based on data the CASP program provides." – Dariela Roffe-Rackind

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