Why almond lovers can breathe easy again

It’s been a tough year for the almond. Vilified and beaten down, the nut has come to symbolize the California drought. While the reasons for and solutions to the drought are complicated and nuanced, the almond’s reputation has nonetheless suffered.

Meanwhile, farmers across the board are under increasing pressure – from regulatory requirements and increasing consumer demand for transparency – to modify their fertilizer application practices and thereby reduce nitrogen losses to the air and water.

Fortunately, there’s good reason for the almond to cheer up – a new Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) from the California Department of Food & Agriculture will support the state’s almond growers in their ongoing efforts to make nut production more sustainable, without sacrificing yields.

Coupled with a separate but complementary Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) that will help connect almond growers to emerging agricultural carbon markets, the almond has a chance to showcase its environmental leadership. Here’s how.

Leverage science & economics

The University of California Davis is identifying the best opportunities for almond growers to reduce nitrogen losses to the environment. And the Almond Board of California has been leading efforts to understand how to implement these greenhouse gas and water quality practices with California farmers. Once finalized, field testing these science-based practices with pilot growers will have tangible environmental benefits.

According to the Almond Board, initial estimates indicate that reducing nitrogen fertilizer use by as little as nine percent per acre could reduce fertilizer costs by 12 percent, without impacting yield.

As a part of our existing collaboration, the Almond Board and EDF will:

  • Develop a cost-benefit analysis tool, modeled off of a similar tool created for rice growers, for farmers interested in implementing new management practices.
  • Use the tool to showcase short-term opportunity costs for fertilizer efficiency measures, economic benefits, and opportunities to increase profitability.
  • Ensure the tool also incorporates the costs and benefits associated with generating a carbon offset, which can provide growers with extra revenue and help them meet new supply chain demands for sustainability.

According to the Almond Board, initial estimates indicate that reducing nitrogen fertilizer use by as little as nine percent per acre could reduce fertilizer costs by 12 percent, without impacting yield.

Create a protocol

Now that the first crop-based protocol is available for farmers, almond growers are ready to get on board and demonstrate that they, too, are ready to voluntarily participate in the California cap-and-trade market.

Once the almond farming practices recommended by UC Davis’s research are incorporated into a protocol, the protocol could be leveraged for other woody perennial crop growers to get official credit for conservation practices that reduce emissions.

SBCG project partners will therefore work to adapt a protocol for use by California almond growers. As a parallel effort, the CIG funding will support development of an overarching nitrogen fertilizer management protocol that can apply to multiple annual and perennial crops.

Spread the word

The practices developed under this grant will initially apply to almond growers across 800,000 acres in California, and will enhance existing fertilizer efficiency practices. These practices could then be expanded to more than 1 million acres with the inclusion of walnuts and pistachios.

With almonds out in front and leading sustainability efforts, they’ll inspire further innovation and research into new technologies that minimize fertilizer losses – across California and beyond.

Related links
Agricultural carbon markets get yet another boost
California’s drought is real, but it’s dusted up a lot of hot air

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One Comment

  1. Skeptic
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like a terrible idea to me. California has a million acres (and growing fast) of almonds, grown largely for export, that are causing dramatic declines in groundwater throughout the state. If you drive through the San Joaquin Valley, it’s shocking to see mile after mile of baby trees in an industrial-scale monoculture. The truth is this industry is using vast amounts of water and harming our environment, all for the profit of a very few.

    They certainly don’t need another subsidy on top of cheap water provided at taxpayer expense. Instead, we ought to be investing in real greenhouse gas emissions reductions, like energy conservation and renewable energy projects.