As a student majoring in agricultural systems management at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, Michael Roots especially enjoyed classes featuring ag communications and education, as well as hands-on opportunities in the lab. Today, after five years of working in almonds, Roots has combined his love for outreach with hands-on management experience in his new role as a specialist on the Almond Board of California (ABC) Field Outreach and Education team.
In his role, Michael will support growers facing issues in the orchard, guide them through modules within the California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP), and deliver ABC resources and tools, particularly those related to the Almond Orchard 2025 Goals. Based in Modesto, Roots will serve growers from Sacramento to Merced.
“I am most excited about meeting and connecting with almond growers and learning how to best help them. It’s really important to me that I learn not only how I individually can support the industry, but also that I gain an understanding of what additional tools and resources growers need to be successful,” said Roots.
Farm management to grower support
After graduating from Cal Poly, Roots worked as a ranch foreman for Farmland Management Services, based in Turlock, and quickly moved up to a ranch manager position. In his new role, he managed 4,000 acres of nuts, primarily almonds. Each day brought a new challenge and opportunity, from making Integrated Pest Management (IPM) decisions to determining appropriate irrigation schedules to managing employees, all while keeping a close eye on the budget.
Roots also gained experience implementing cutting-edge practices and technologies, including Whole Orchard Recycling (WOR). As manager, he redeveloped an orchard using WOR, gaining multiple learnings throughout the process.
“You have to be really careful when incorporating the ground-up product into the soil – disking and ripping correctly is crucial,” Roots said. “In my role, I learned all the fine details of Whole Orchard Recycling and gained a solid understanding of what it takes to make the orchard exactly how you want it to be once the chips are in the ground.”
Roots also gained experience tracking water usage for various purposes. While this data proved invaluable in ensuring compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), it also allowed Farmland Management to be more savvy with their water use – “we couldn’t have done what we did without it,” Roots said.
Beyond all his daily tasks, however, Roots said what brought him the most joy was seeing his fellow employees learn and grow in the industry. For instance, when Roots decided to give an employee who demonstrated much potential a new project, he equipped the employee with all the contacts and strategies he had, provided him with guidance and expertise, and then excitedly watched him navigate the process and succeed. To this day, that employee still calls Roots for advice.
“He was so excited because he learned how to do that project on his own,” mentioned Roots. “I get so much satisfaction from teaching people and empowering them.”
Ensuring grower success
In his role at ABC, Roots and his team are looking forward to opportunities for him to start meeting with growers and sharing his knowledge and experience with them (within the realm of COVID-19 precautions). Beyond his personal experience in growing almonds, fellow Field Outreach team member Ashley Correia brings experience from the ag commissioner’s office while senior manager Tom Devol provides decades of irrigation experience. This diverse make up allows ABC’s Field Outreach team to provide growers with a well-rounded blend of specialties and insight.
“The Almond Board hired directly from the growing community – a grower to support growers – and with his first-hand operational knowledge, Michael brings a new skill set to the Field Outreach and Education team,” said Devol. “He is incredibly eager and excited to share his experience with growers, explaining what he found works and what doesn’t.”
“I know the day-to-day challenges of growing almonds: I’ve had a main line break during the peak of an irrigation cycle, and I’ve experienced multiple labor shortages – I can relate to those struggles,” said Roots. “In my role at ABC, I am honored and excited to be a valuable resource and help guide growers in any way they need.”
Roots aims to reach as many growers as he can with Almond Board resources and support particularly in the 2025 Goals focus areas of irrigation management, IPM, soil health, Whole Orchard Recycling, harvest techniques and pollinator best practices, among other areas.
“I’m excited to show growers how small adjustments in the orchard can go a long way in saving them time and money, either in the near-term or one, two, three years down the road,” said Roots. “With the 2025 Goals, in particular, there’s much opportunity to make minor enhancements that will go a long way in helping the industry meet its four goals.”
He is also looking forward to sharing ABC’s global marketing efforts with growers, providing updates from almond markets around the world and shedding light into the Almond Board’s strategic, industry-guided approach to global market development.
“I am really excited to work with my new colleagues at the Almond Board because the whole organization offers so many resources and knowledge. Board staff are extremely dedicated to helping the industry tackle current and upcoming issues, and there are multiple different skill sets here – it’s like an almond powerhouse.”
When he’s not diving into ABC-funded research useful to growers or creating industry connections, Roots elects to spend his time in the beautiful outdoors. On any given weekend you’ll find him hiking, walking his dog Bella, camping or taking weekend trips to Monterey. Born and raised in Modesto, he also enjoys the area’s breweries, wineries and restaurants, and strives to support local businesses whenever possible.
And, like many in the industry, his favorite way to eat almonds is “in the middle of harvest, when you grab an almond and you taste it at 5.5% [moisture content], it’s perfect, and you know you’re ready to pick up the crop.”
Growers seeking in-orchard support, assistance with CASP, or simply looking to learn more about the Almond Board are heavily encouraged to contact Roots at [email protected] or (209) 343-3249.