How We Grow

2021 Nov/Dec How We Grow

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ALMOND COMMUNITY Everyone Benefits When Growers and Researchers Work Together Robert Longstreth started farming on his parents' 33-acre walnut orchard when he was a teenager, then studied plant science and viticulture at CSU Fresno. He now owns Growers Choice in Escalon and grows almonds, walnuts and cherries on 5,000 acres on a range of farms north and east of Modesto. He's seen a lot during his years farming in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. So some may question why Longstreth regularly signs up for what might seem an unlikely partnership that cedes control to researchers of some of his orchard acres. "There are very important things we need to know," Longstreth said. "We can't make decisions just because they feel good. We have to have answers founded in science. We need to know, did it work or did it not work? We're trying to make decisions that make us money." Collaboration between researchers and growers like Longstreth have enormous value – to science, to the almond industry and to the individual growers. They're a cornerstone of the progress the almond industry continues to make on everything from farming technique to pest management to reducing water use and more. "It is an absolute necessity for us to work with local growers," said Roger Duncan, a UC Agriculture & Natural Resources (UC ANR) farm advisor. "There aren't many research stations in California. If we didn't have growers willing to cooperate, we couldn't operate." At any time, there are scores of research projects going on throughout California, overseen by farm advisors, UC Davis and UC ANR professors and researchers, and graduate students focusing on agriculture in college. The trials cover everything from equipment and irrigation techniques to rootstock and varieties to irrigation, harvesting and every other aspect of growing almonds. They all start with a primary goal – to help growers produce a product more efficiently and be the best stewards of the land while doing so. "What we learn will help growers across the board adopt industry best practices," said Sebastian Saa, associate director of agricultural research for the Almond Board of California (ABC). "Occasionally, the research is very specific to that region, but any learning or innovation will enhance the efficiency and sustainability of our entire industry." For many growers who participate, he said, the added value is interacting with the researchers and seeing results firsthand. "When growers are part of a trial," Saa said, "they can be 100% certain the results apply to their orchard." That's why Longstreth continues to work with researchers. He can bring them a question or a problem and be sure about the research process, the land studied and the findings. "I need to get the information," he said. "There's no better way to find out than to be part of the study. I know everything applies to us. If the study were done in a research block, I don't know what it was like before they went in. But if the researchers do it with me, my control is the rest of my orchard. I can compare the results." Some growers volunteer for studies knowing that researchers can come up with unexpected ideas. "The biggest value to us is that these collaborations bring a lot of different areas of expertise into our fields to get different perspectives on a problem," Zac Ellis, senior director of agronomy at Olam Farming in Fresno, said when speaking to his personal experience in collaborating with researchers. "They bring a whole new set of solutions we might not have considered." For researchers, the collaborations offer real-life laboratories enhanced by the hard-earned experience of growers. "Researchers use the scientific method to solve problems," Saa said. "It is an absolute necessity for us to work with local growers... If we didn't have growers willing to cooperate, we couldn't operate." — Roger Duncan 15

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