How We Grow

2021 Jan/Feb How We Grow

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RESEARCH UPDATE Research You Can Take to the Bank The sustainability of the California almond industry starts with the profitability of almond growers. On one side of the profitability equation, the Almond Board of California (ABC) continues to invest in research to expand the value of almonds worldwide – the other side involves finding new ways to help the industry manage costs. California almonds are grown in one of the most unique agricultural regions in the world, and still growers are consistently faced with resource and regulatory challenges that have implications for both current and future generations. Research priorities for industry profitability should therefore consider both immediate needs as well as future potential threats. ABC's Strategic Ag Innovation Committee and its seven affiliated workgroups consist of industry leaders and experts across a variety of disciplines who proactively direct research for a more prosperous industry. Research under their guidance has directly contributed to profitability on a grower level and is positioned to provide further cost reductions in the future. Maximizing water and labor As the cost of resources like water and labor continue to rise, identifying and improving upon even the smallest inefficiency can make a big difference. Recent ABC-funded research is exploring optimal timing around when growers should start irrigating at the beginning of the season. Some experts hypothesize that there may be room to start later in the season and save additional water costs. However, data is still being collected to determine if this is the case. Looking to the here and now, currently one acre-foot of water in some areas of California's Central Valley can cost as much as $2,000. With the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), these costs are likely to increase. The Almond Orchard 2025 Goal of reducing the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by an additional 20% 1 is not only good for environmental stewardship – it can also deliver a real cost savings for growers. To date, an example of progress in this area is that nearly 80% of California almond orchards now use microirrigation, partially as a result of industry-funded research that started in 1982. "These irrigation systems can offer distribution uniformity as high as 95%, when well maintained, versus 50% with a unmaintained system," said Tom Devol, senior manager of Field Outreach and Education at the Almond Board. "Still, even if your irrigation system is working at 77% efficiency versus 95% efficiency, you could lose up to $7,800 in energy costs alone for every 100-acre orchard using the less-efficient system." Several ABC-funded research projects are culminated in the Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum, 2 a 149-page comprehensive manual of irrigation management and scheduling practices that serve as a resource to further improve water efficiency. "By adopting practices outlined in the Continuum, I'm using 10% less water," said Bakersfield grower Heith Baughman. "My power bill has dropped significantly, and I've addressed disease problems in my orchard." 3 Labor is another cost that seems only to be rising. Past ABC-funded research found that most pruning, often a costly and labor-intensive endeavor, does not positively impact yield. Although some pruning is still necessary, this research led to a 38% decrease in growers' average pruning costs from 2006 to 2019. This reduction in pruning contributes to another 2025 Goal: achieving zero waste in the orchard by putting everything grown to optimal use. In this case, less of the tree is pruned and removed, which means more of it can ultimately be returned to the soil through Whole Orchard Recycling 1 Why "additional"? Over the past two decades, growers have reduced the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by 33%. (Source: University of California, 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012. Almond Board of California, 1990-94, 2000-14.) "By adopting practices outlined in the Continuum, I'm using 10% less water. My power bill has dropped significantly, and I've addressed disease problems in my orchard." — Heith Baughman 2 3 The cost of pollination is 15-20% of annual costs, which is equivalent to the cost range for irrigation as well as harvest activities. To support growers and help make pollination more affordable, ABC is investing in research on hive stocking rates. $200 $180 $160 $140 $120 $100 $80 $60 $40 $20 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 Cost per hive Average Hive Fee for California Almonds 13

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