What Would Regenerative Farming Mean For Almonds?
“Regenerative agriculture” is a concept for sustainable farming that has been around for decades, but that terminology been gaining traction particularly in the last 5 years. While there are many different definitions of what that means in terms of specific farming practices and there are several different regenerative certifications, the “regenerative” concept typically involves two basic aspirations: improving soil health in order to enhance climate resiliency and water use-efficiency, and a reduction of inputs achieved through optimized nutrient cycling and integrated pest management. Many “regenerative movement” participants acknowledge the need to identify “measurable outcomes” that can be used to optimize practices for specific growing environments and then track progress towards the goals. That process is most advanced for row crop rotational settings, but there is also interest in doing that for tree and vine crops. There are now two large-scale almond production experiments underway in California supported by consumer-facing food brands that would like to source nuts that can be claimed to have been grown using regenerative methods.
There are 1.35 Million acres of almond orchards in California generating $3 to $6 billion of sales at the farm level, $9.2 billion in overall economic activity and 110,000 jobs. That industry has been a long-term participant in sustainability initiatives and has developed the California Almond Stewardship Platform (CASP) to help growers track and optimize the sustainability of their operations. Dr. Josette Lewis, Chief Scientific Officer for the Almond Board describes the goal of their research funding as “providing growers with science-based information that informs choices on new practices and potential implications for their farming operations.” The regenerative projects described below are building on that base and almond buyers can reasonably anticipate wider adoption of these practices should they demonstrate success in terms of the outcomes to which they aspire.
These initiatives involve partnerships between growers, processors, consumer brands and researchers. One such effort is the farmer-led, 300 acre, five year “The Almond Project” focused on the implementation and evaluation of regenerative soil health practices. The grower/processor side in this case is represented by Treehouse California Almonds and the Gardiner Family. Its founding partners include food marketers Simple Mills, Daily Harvest, and Cappello’s. Guidance is provided by the non-profit, regenerative-focused White Buffalo Land Trust organization, and the outcome measurement component is supported by Soil Life Services, Agri Technovation, and the University of California, Davis.
Earlier this year, KIND Snacks launched a three-year, 500 acre pilot project titled the KIND Almond Acres Initiative as the snack company uses almonds as their number one ingredient in 45 different products. They plan to look at several new technologies in combination with recognized regenerative agriculture practices with the goal of sourcing 100% of their almonds from such farms by 2030. They are partnering with the ingredient production and processing player olam food ingredients (ofi). The other project players are the California Water Action Collaborative (CWAXC) and university researchers at UC Davis.