How We Grow

2021 Nov/Dec How We Grow

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ZERO WASTE ALMOND ORCHARD 2025 GOAL Pomona Farming Explores Additional Avenues for Hulls and Shells Pomona Farming manages more than 40,000 acres of almonds spanning 350 miles across California. Like other growing operations, the team at Pomona Farming seeks to maximize efficiency to grow safe, healthy and delicious almonds for consumers around the world to enjoy. In recent years, the company has devoted more attention, planning and logistics to the fate of the coproducts that house those tasty kernels after they leave the orchard. The Almond Board of California (ABC) sat down with Ceil Howe III, Chief Operating Officer of Pomona Farming, to discuss the company's long-term vision for reuse and repurpose almond hulls and shells as compost. The company's internal goal is to move toward zero waste by putting everything it grows to optimal use, aligning with the almond industry's Orchard 2025 Goal. 1 Tell us about Pomona Farming Company. We have orchards across the state from around Vacaville in the north, down to south of Bakersfield. We have a great team of employees who share a vision and strategy for farming high-quality almonds in a safe, transparent way. We're also conscious of the inputs we use and we employ the best practices possible to make a product that is sustainable over the long term. In 2017, we joined the California Almond Sustainability Program, which we use as a standard to judge our performance. Composting of hulls and shells is a central piece of your vision for putting coproducts to optimal use. Tell us about the factors that influenced your thinking. Going back to 2013 or so, when hulls and shells were at record high prices – $165 per ton for hulls and shells were probably $45 or $50 – it was quite lucrative. Then watching the down cycle just two or three years later — where you could hardly give them away — meant we can't rely on just one outlet. Most of the industry's hulls and shells have been going to the dairy industry and I've watched that footprint shrink. Part of our culture here is finding our own solutions, and when you start considering your carbon footprint, shipping almond hulls from California to Texas or putting them on a boat for overseas seems unlikely, so I just started thinking that there has to be a way to get these back into the field. What benefit do you see using almond hulls as a source material to make compost? First, if we can reuse something we already created and it can offset something else, even at a small scale, that's a huge benefit. I've run some studies on almond hulls and their highest ingredient is potassium. Almonds are big potassium users, so getting hulls broken down in the orchard seems like a good idea, but the volume you need to apply to get the right amount of potassium is pretty high. It's about trying to create a balance. What type of compost have you used or are planning to use? So we've done just straight almond shells, wetting them down and then sort of composting them in the field to breakdown, but there's very little nutrients in that. This fall we will mix almond hulls and shells with cow manure and green waste and then explore some other products available. We plan to run a bunch of testing and then apply it to see which results we like best. A big factor for making compost depends on what's available near you. To make it, you need a nitrogen source which will generate the heat so you can kill all the pathogens and the weed seed. We're exploring what the optimal product is and luckily one of our ranches is not too far away from a feed yard, so that's a good opportunity because we don't have to do a lot of trucking. What benefits do you think you'll see in the orchard from using compost? I have a lot of experience with compost in row crops, so I would say we're going to have better water infiltration and better water retention. We have a fair amount of sandy soil, so it's going to create a little better water-holding potential in those soils. In other locations, we have soil with a lot of rock, so we have a need to add organic matter to that soil type. We experienced heavy rains in 2017 and 2019 up north near Dixon and the Delta region, so increasing water infiltration to keep those orchards healthy was very important. That soil is heavier and has a lot of cracking, so the compost - with the extra organic matter - will help reduce the shrinking and swelling of the clay soil while improving water infiltration. Ceil Howe III Chief Operating Officer of Pomona Farming ALMOND ORCHARD 2025 GOAL ZERO WASTE 1 Almond Orchard 2025 Goals adopted in 2019 related to Zero Waste, Water, IPM and Dust Management: 13

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