As California’s almond industry embarks on a second year of implementation of a set of bold conservation goals, industry leaders are urging a back-to-basics approach.
They say the key to achieving the industry’s Almond Orchard 2025 Goals is full grower participation in a program created in 2005 to help growers track their use of water and chemicals, called the California Almond Sustainability Program.
The online program helps a farm calculate its crop’s nitrogen needs, keep track of an orchard’s irrigation schedules and automatically meet regulatory reporting requirements, according to the Almond Board’s website.
The program also helps growers learn about improved orchard management practices and shows the public how almond growers farm responsibly and efficiently, the website explains.
“Consumers are asking more and more questions about where they’re food comes from and how it’s grown than ever before,” said Daren Williams, the Almond Board’s senior director of global communications. “They want it to be sustainable.”
In a “State of the Industry” presentation at the 47th annual Almond Conference in Sacramento in December, Almond Board Chairwoman Holly King announced the board’s goal is to have all of the state’s growers enrolled in CASP by the 2022 conference.
“The CASP program is beneficial in a lot of different ways,” King told the gathering. “We can improve a lot of our operations.
“It’s also given us the ability to protect our right to farm in California” by demonstrating for policymakers the industry’s commitment to sound practices, King said. Moreover, “we can use the statistics to attract buyers,” she said.
The push comes as almond industry leaders have been increasingly image-conscious in recent years as some environmental groups and media outlets accused growers of using too much water and causing bee die-offs with over-reliance on pesticides.
In late 2018, the Almond Board unveiled its ambitious Almond Orchard 2025 Goals – to cut industry water use by an additional 20 percent, increase use of environmentally friendly pest management tools by 25 percent, eliminate orchard waste by making better use of byproducts and halve the amount of dust kicked up during harvest.
ORCHARD GOALS ROADMAP
At the 2019 conference, board leaders introduced an Almond Orchard 2025 Goals Roadmap, which further outlines the industry’s journey. The road map relies heavily on achieving more widespread industry participation in CASP, whose nitrogen and irrigation calculators and mapping tool will help the board quantify growers’ progress toward greater sustainability.
“A lot about this journey is not only changing our own behavior, but communicating that to key people and to consumers,” said Josette Lewis, a former Environmental Defense Fund official who was hired in February 2019 as the Almond Board’s director of agricultural affairs.
CASP “is a way for us as a community to communicate our goals to an important audience,” Lewis said during a session at the conference. “We sit here in California where regulators are acutely interested in managing how we handle chemicals.”
The CASP program was created after growers and handlers developed a working definition of sustainability specific to almonds in 2005. Its tools include a nitrogen calculator for fertility plans and a mapping tool that also generates the Nitrogen Management Plan report required by the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program.
The CASP service is free and secure, Almond Board officials say. The data you enter is saved for you to updated as needed, but never shared. Data from the self-assessment modules is only reported in aggregate to document industry-wide statistics and as a way for you to compare your practices with other growers.
For more information on the program, visit www.almonds.com/growers/sustainability.