How We Grow

2019 Nov/Dec How We Grow

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RESEARCH UPDATE 17 Onward and Upward: ABC's 46 Years of Production Research Imagine a typical California almond orchard in 1973. There were around 75 trees per acre, with each acre producing about 1,000 pounds of nuts. Two rows of Nonpareil trees were bracketed by a single pollinating variety. Fewer bees were used during pollination. Orchards were flood irrigated on regular schedules. Harvest created clouds of dust. Navel Orangeworm (NOW) damage sometimes approached 10% or higher. Up to 20% of the canopy was pruned after each harvest, then burned. Nitrogen was applied in the fall after harvest. Compare that with a typical California almond orchard today. Orchards are denser, averaging 120 trees per acre. Yield is dramatically higher, at an average of 2,250 pounds per acre. One row of Nonpareils has a different pollinator variety on each side. More bees (two hives/acre) are buzzing during bloom. Most orchards have micro-sprinkler or drip irrigation systems that use far less water and allow nutrients to be targeted to the roots. Nitrogen is applied during the spring and early summer when the tree is equipped to take up the nitrogen. And soil moisture sensors, evapotranspiration (ET) guides and monitoring of tree water status help growers apply water more precisely to the trees. In addition, new machinery and harvesting techniques have dramatically reduced dust. NOW damage has been cut to about 1% with the help of a multi-step Integrated Pest Management system. And the industry is striving to use hulls, shells, trees and woody biomass to their full potential. Virtually all these advances can, on some level, be credited to research funded by the Almond Board of California (ABC). Add to that the vast amount of nutrition and food safety research that has been conducted in the last four decades and it's clear that ABC's multimillion-dollar research investment has paid significant dividends, year after year. Because of this investment, almond growers and handlers have been able to rapidly adapt to change, whether new government regulations, evolving consumer expectations, more demanding markets or environmental concerns. "Over the decades, ABC-funded research has largely focused on the industry's most pressing issues and provided the foundation from which the impossible became possible. The continuous improvement of agricultural industries evolves at a pace that is largely determined by innovative know-how; research underpins each and every innovative step forward that the California almond industry has taken," said Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board of California. A look back with Bob Curtis The best place to start a discussion about the Almond Board's comprehensive research program is at the beginning, in 1973. And the best person to have that conversation with is Bob Curtis, who was the first ABC-funded graduate student to conduct production research in the orchard. After earning his master's degree in entomology, Curtis joined ABC to manage the production research program. During his career, Curtis had a front-row seat for many of the high-profile projects that led to increased yields, integrated pest management advances, water efficiency savings, pollinator health, orchard management and other key initiatives. "In the beginning of the program, the targeted research focus was managing Navel Orangeworm and associated quality problems like aflatoxin contamination, with about 11 projects," said Curtis. While ABC and the almond industry are still tackling Navel Orangeworm today, the research program evolved quickly to include a wider range of orchard management topics like horticulture and irrigation practices. It is important to note that the methods and knowledge gained from ABC-funded research are significant to more than "I think it's safe to say if we hadn't increased our production per acre we wouldn't be in the position we are now in terms of supplying high level of demand for almonds worldwide," said Bob Curtis, shown here presenting to growers at an in-orchard event in 2008.

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