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Almond Board of California President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Waycott and Chairwoman Holly King discuss the organization’s sustainability goals, including development of coproducts, during the annual Almond Conference in Sacramento in December.

Could U.S. ag take a page from almond board?

Panel finds common ground with environmental groups.

Does the Almond Board of California (ABC) have a business model that other agricultural organizations – not just the commodity groups – might want to emulate? I think so.

Since 1950 almond growers have voted by referendum to pay pennies per pound for the federal marketing order, which at its core seeks to “make California almonds essential to customers and consumers worldwide through innovative research, market development and industry support.” Though the mission rightly is to sell more almonds, what the organization does reaches beyond its orchards and board room.

As a federal marketing order, the board is prohibited from political lobbying – hence its relationship with the Almond Alliance of California (AAC). The Almond Board provides scientific data and information which AAC, and any other organization that wishes to can use to promote California almonds.

The Almond Board’s progressive approach to agriculture in general doesn’t just benefit almond growers. Its best management practices for bee handling promotes pollinator protection that benefits beekeepers and the crops they pollinate. Its work on water issues have a broader reach than the million-plus acres of almonds growing in the state. Last December an almond board representative speaking at the USA Rice Outlook Conference made some positive comments about California rice sustainability efforts and communications that were noticed.

As California’s largest crop by acreage and its largest agricultural exporter, Daren Williams, the almond board’s senior director of global communications, says ABC Chief Executive Officer Richard Waycott’s internal message is one of leadership within agriculture.

Within this focus are some interesting partnerships that perhaps not all agricultural groups would eagerly embrace, including Sustainable Conservation and the Environmental Defense Fund – yes, that EDF.

On water, the partnership with Sustainable Conservation is critical because Williams sees Sustainable Conservation as able to do work that the Almond Board otherwise could not do. On its relationship with EDF, Williams admits there’s not going to be cross-platform agreement on all issues, but on the issues the two can agree upon. Williams says the board hopes to find common ground with the environmental organization that translates into wins for almonds and agriculture in general.

What would it look like for U.S. agriculture if other ag associations had similar global views? Can the board’s success in maintaining demand ahead of an ever-growing supply be connected to this philosophy or was it simply the fortuitous result of landmark nutrition studies decades ago by an organization willing to spend money on good research? Could U.S. producer prices benefit from similar leadership and messages focusing on the positive global benefits of sustainable U.S. food and fiber production, and could agricultural in-fighting cease with similar efforts to seek common ground?

I don’t pretend to have those answers, but from the perspective agricultural journalism and life experiences provide me, recognizing successful leadership within organizations such as the Almond Board of California is simple.

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