- The Almond Board of California (ABC) announced it is investing $4.8 million in 64 independent, third-party research projects experimenting with innovative farming techniques, according to Food Ingredients First. Three key areas of interest for almond farmers include water sustainability, protection of honey bees that pollinate the almond crop, and new uses for almond hulls, shells and woody materials.
- In the past 40 years, ABC has invested close to $70 million in research on how to improve the way almonds are grown, processed and consumed in order to make an "an economically, environmentally and socially responsible crop for California."
- According to ABC's recently released sustainability publication, Growing Good, the industry has already made progress in terms of environmental initiatives. Half of almond processors use solar energy at their facilities, 78% of almond orchards use efficient micro-irrigation, and 94% of almond farms notify beekeepers about pesticides that may need to be used.
The humble, heart-healthy almond has gained something of a bad reputation in California. The Golden State's drought may have come to an end — Governor Jerry Brown declared that the emergency period was over in April — but the water-leeching seed was at the forefront of the environmental controversy, and has yet to escape scrutiny.
One almond requires a gallon of water to grow properly, making it the second-most thirsty crop in California, behind alfalfa sprouts. If there were one main sustainability obstacle facing the popular nut, it would be water use.
Despite it’s year-round dependence on water, the almond business has boomed. California is the only state to grow America’s most consumed-nut commercially, thanks to its ideal cool winters and warm spring temperatures. Now, thanks to increased demand, 44% more land there is being used to farm almonds compared to a decade ago. But increased production means even more water use, which has impacted other California industries. Because water is diverted for almond farms, the Klamath River has experienced low-water levels — threatening thousands of endangered king salmon.
If ABC’s research is able to reduce the amount of water needed to grow almonds, the price per nut at the supermarket may drop, and more farmers could shift toward producing it. That said, there is no guarantee farmers will pass the savings on to consumers when there is still growing demand for their harvest, though sustainability claims could lure more shoppers to the expensive nut.
The two other areas ABC is pouring its research dollars into — the protection of honey bees that pollinate the almond crop and upcycling almond waste — could also prove to be enticing value-adds. Environmental stewardship and zero-waste production are top of mind for many conscious consumers, and these initiatives could help bring a sustainability halo to the almond industry.