Demand for so-called health foods is here to stay for at least the next 30 years, and California's almond industry can capitalize on it, says marketing consultant A. Elizabeth Sloan.

Speaking in Modesto, Calif., at the recent 28th annual conference of the Almond Board of California (ABC), Sloan said "health" foods are indeed a component of nutrition but are also part the public's growing interest in supplemental diets.

"We have a new attitude about foods, and many are trying to reduce cholesterol by the use of food products. We are shifting away from vitamin pills, looking to get the same nutrients through foods, and that is good for almonds."

Sloan, who formerly held senior editorial positions with McCall's and Good Housekeeping magazines before forming her company in Escondido, said the chief news coverage interest of the public is health.

In a Rodale Press survey, 80 percent of respondents said that was most important to them, followed by local politics at 78 percent, and national politics at 75 percent.

Further, she said, the survey indicated more than half the people change their behavior after reading a health article and a third of them consult their physician.

An estimated 115 million adult Americans take a dietary supplement daily. Perhaps it should be no surprise that food executives rank "nutraceutical-functional foods" highest in importance among other categories of ethnic, frozen, reduced calorie, or low fat.

These attitudes have not gone unnoticed by the nation's $150 billion industry for healthy foods, and major food manu-

Safar amendments provide added benefits Applying sulfuric acid to improve water penetration in the alkaline soils of the San Joaquin Valley's West Side is a time tested and cost-effective method of improving production in a wide array of crops.

However, there are safety issues with sulfuric, according to Dan Munk, Fresno County University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor. "There are special handling and hauling procedures and state and federal regulations that must be followed, so growers should be very careful when using sulfuric acid."

Munk notes that there are other nitrogen- and phosphorus-based acidic amendments that reduce those safety concerns while providing additional benefits. N-pHuric and Phos-pHuric acid fertilizers are uniquely formulated products that alter the chemical composition of the soil in the same way that sulfuric acid works. Additionally, the products provide important supplemental nutrients to crops.

While care must still be taken while handling N-pHuric and Phos-pHuric, "both products are easier to handle than sulfuric acid and work in the same manner by reducing carbonate and bicarbonate levels, thereby improving water penetration and land reclamation," Munk says. "You also get the added advantage of extra nutritional supplementation."

N-pHuric fertilizer is manufactured by combining urea and sulfuric acid in a controlled and patented process. Phos-pHuric fertilizer is a step further in the manufacturing process in that it combines N-pHuric fertilizer with liquid phosphoric acid. Both products provide several important benefits when used on marginal soils that are either currently under production or being prepared for planting.

"N-pHuric in its concentrated form is 49 percent sulfuric acid, which can do wonders for the reclamation of alkaline soils with lots of lime in the top two inches," says Blake Sanden, Kern County farm advisor. "That's an issue on many of our West Side San Joaquin Valley soils."

Frees up calcium As with sulfuric acid, the application of N-pHuric or Phos-pHuric fertilizer frees up calcium. This improves soil aggregation and increases filtration, allowing sodium and other salts to be leached from the root zone. It also lowers soil pH in the seed zone and helps prevent crusting. Crop emergence is enhanced and improved stands often are seen later in the growing season.

Skip Purdy, agronomist with Western Farm Service in Stockton, Calif., has worked extensively with N-pHuric and Phos-pHuric fertilizers over the years. "If a grower has a soil that lends itself to chemical alteration by acid, these products can be extremely beneficial," he says. "Most alkaline soils have very slow water penetration. A product such as N-pHuric or Phos-pHuric fertilizer helps get rid of the carbonates in the soil and the carbonates in the water. That reduces the overall surface tension of the water and helps the water to move more easily into the soil profile, maintaining the solubility of calcium to displace the sodium and improve soil structure."

That can be very important during the growing season, particularly when the crop's water demand increases. "The rate of water absorption becomes more of an issue during the mid to latter part of the season," Munk says. "Typically, during July and August, water demands by Valley crops are the greatest and water infiltration rates at their lowest. If the soil won't absorb the water fast enough, you can get behind in a hurry."

N-pHuric and Phos-pHuric fertilizers are flexible in terms of application technique and timing. They can be broadcast and incorporated into the soil prior to planting, serving as an important source of nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorous for emerging seedlings. They have been used extensively as anti-crustants in row crops, and even in a crop such as alfalfa, which is commonly known to fix its own nitrogen, emerging plants have not yet developed that capability and can benefit significantly from supplemental nitrogen.

In-season application N-pHuric and Phos-pHuric fertilizers can be applied during the growing season. "Applying these products as a water treatment during the growing season to alfalfa can improve water penetration by reducing the bicarbonates in the irrigation water," Purdy says. "They may also be broadcast and this type of application should be made as soon as possible after cutting as it may delay growth a few days as a result of burning back foliage."

For broadcast applications of N-pHuric and Phos-pHuric fertilizers, the alfalfa stand must be at least 12 months old with at least two preceding cuttings. Both products may also be applied through any type of irrigation system provided the pH of the water is not reduced below 4.5.

Improving soil/water characteristics can have a significant impact on crop performance. It's not a one-shot solution, however. The beneficial effects of any soil amendment are diluted over time and must be replaced regularly to sustain improvements. This is particularly true where large amounts of groundwater are used for irrigation. Fortunately, it's a relatively easy process. And the added nutritional advantages of some products make the application even more attractive.