About 15 years ago the Almond Board of California created an annual event with an unlikely target audience at the time: the government regulator.
Since then the Almond Board’s Environmental Stewardship Tour has become an annual event office-bound regulators look forward to each year as it provides a field trip to see and hear how the regulations they write and enforce affect almond farmers.
“This is good for our staff to attend,” said Brian Leahy, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). Leahy was on this year’s tour.
“We have administrative staff here because we want everyone to understand this,” Leahy continued.
Each year the Almond Board of California invites representatives from the various state and federal agencies who regulate agriculture in the state. These can include DPR staff, the state and regional water boards, air district officials and the Air Resources Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Resources Conservation Service, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the wildlife agencies.
Dr. Gabriele Ludwig, the Almond Board's director of sustainability and environmental affairs, says the event hasn’t changed much since it began. By design it targets regulators with an opportunity to walk almond orchards and processing facilities to see how the crop is produced and to hear first-hand from growers and handlers how regulatory rules impact both.
Regulators typically tour orchards and in some cases, have toured processing facilities. Last year’s tour was the one year regulators got to see a nursery operation as they visited Duarte Nursery in Hughson. Most of the tours happen in mid-spring, after the bloom has finished and before temperatures soar too high.
This year’s event took place at Mapes Ranch west of Modesto and was hosted by former CDFA Secretary Bill Lyons, chief executive of Mapes Ranch. There guests were shown typical orchard densities of a little more than 100 trees per acre to high-density plantings with as many as 907 trees per acre.
“We like to give regulators a sense of the choices farmers make when it comes to pesticides and fertilizers,” Ludwig said. “Each farmer is different and will focus on a little different aspect of growing almonds.”
For Patrick Pulupa, Central Valley Water Board executive officer, this was his first opportunity to take the tour. Aside from enjoying the time to see and hear from growers, he also enjoyed a presentation during this year’s tour from Dr. Thomas Harder, a Cooperative Extension specialist and professor at UC Davis, on university studies related to nitrogen use.
“It was good to hear Thomas Harter explain the issues and I love hearing from the guys who grow the crops and hear their concerns,” Pulupa said.