Almond Environmental Stewardship Tour showcases industry's commitment to environmentally responsible production methods
 

For Immediate Release
March 3, 2006
For More Information:
Christy Quaresma
(209) 343-3218
cquaresma@almondboard.com


(Modesto, Calif., March 3) – More than 20 members of state, federal and regional environmental regulatory agencies recently toured Hunter Farms in Livingston to see the latest innovations and technologies almond growers are using in their adoption of environmentally friendly farming practices.

>From shredded and composted orchard prunings to high-tech spray technology, almond grower Scott Hunter displayed the innovative approaches he is using to meet mounting regulations while maintaining a productive and profitable orchard system.

Hunter, chairman of the Almond Board of California, joined other grower members of the Almond Board’s Environmental Committee at the Almond Board of California’s Environmental Stewardship Tour to give regulators, in some cases, their first in-person look at the orchards they regulate. The California almond industry is in the midst of a five-year plan “to be the healthiest specialty crop in the world” benefiting consumers, the environment and the industry. Through its Environmental Stewardship Campaign, the Environmental Committee for several years has been fostering research, and gathering and disseminating information about environmentally friendly almond production techniques.

Hunter highlighted several pieces of equipment used at Hunter Farms that allow him to limit dust emissions in the orchard and reduce pesticide and fertilizer use. The SmartSprayer, for instance, can reduce the amount of pesticides sprayed in the orchard an average of 20 percent by only spraying where pesticides will contact the tree. Three zones of calibrated nozzles detect the presence of the tree canopy and automatically turn on and off as the sprayer moves through the orchard. By reducing applied pesticides, SmartSprayers and other high tech sprayers not only save money, but also reduce the chance of offsite movement of those pesticides into neighboring surface water channels.

Almond grower Scott Hunter of Hunter Farms explains during the Almond Environmental Stewardship Tour for regulators in February how his dual micro-irrigation lines not only improve irrigation efficiency, but also sprinkle the orchard floor to reduce dust emissions at harvest. (Photo by Marni Katz)

Tour attendees also viewed innovative equipment that is allowing growers to shred almond prunings instead of burning, and reduce the amount of dust generated during harvest and sweeping operations.

Several speakers shared how almond growers are taking advantage of incentive programs to incorporate cleaner technologies into their orchards and reduce emissions coming out. John Beyer of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service noted that since 1998 the NRCS has awarded more than $24 million in cost-share funds through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to growers throughout the San Joaquin Valley to encourage techniques that have a positive impact on air quality. 

“That means that under the 50 percent cost-share program, growers too have put in $24 million or more of their own dollars to reduce emissions,” Beyer said.

Largely as a result of these efforts, the number of acres of San Joaquin Valley orchards and vineyards that are now chipping their prunings rather than burning has grown from 4,400 acres in 2001 to some 138,000 acres in 2006.

Almond growers are also enthusiastically enrolling in other programs, including PG&E’s Ag-I.C.E. program, which funds conversion from diesel irrigation pump motors to cleaner burning electric ones, and a SJV Air Pollution Control District grant program to finance cleaner technologies that reduce emissions.

These types of partnerships, with government agencies, UC Cooperative Extension, and private industry, have been instrumental in the success of the Almond Board’s Environmental Stewardship Campaign, said grower Dave Baker, who chairs the Board’s Environmental Committee.

“It’s not just the research we conduct, it’s the partnerships we form that help us to reach our goals,” Baker said.

Pamela Creedon, new executive director of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, said six days into the job that touring a working orchard provided perspective on the types of operations she is charged with regulating in the Central Valley.

“This was very enlightening and encouraging,” Creedon said. “It is valuable to be in the field and see what growers are doing to meet the challenges they face in the orchard, regulatory and otherwise.

“And I hope that when they are speaking about forming partnerships, the Regional Board will be included in those discussions and those partnerships,” she added. “We don’t want to just come in and put down regulations on what growers can and cannot do. We have the same goals and we all win when we work together as a partnership to achieve them.”

Pamela Creedon, right, executive director of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, and Bill Croyle, manager of the board’s Irrigated Lands Program, tour Hunter Farms in full bloom during the Almond Board’s Environmental Stewardship Tour for regulators in Livingston.

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The Almond Board of California administers a grower-enacted Federal Marketing Order under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture.  Established in 1950, the Board’s charge is to promote the best quality almonds, California’s largest tree nut crop.  For more information on the Almond Board of California or almonds, visit www.AlmondBoard.com.