This year's Almond Growers' Industry Conference is Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 10-11 — one week later than usual — at the Modesto Centre Plaza, 1150 9th Street, Modesto, Calif.

Almond growers are faced with more challenges than ever. This year's program has been redesigned to bring the most urgent issues and solutions to you through a series of "Hot Topic" panel discussions.

Water and tree nutrition management hot topics

If you can only attend one of the two days, start here. On Thursday morning, Dec. 11, 6:00 a.m., the Growers' Breakfast kicks off our focus on water management, with California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman offering his insights on water options for our industry. Breakfast is free. Call Elaine Price at 209-343-3200 for reservations.

Following breakfast, an expert panel discussion focuses on irrigation scheduling and management: putting it all together. This session will cover use of ETs, and plant-based and soil-based monitoring. Included will be a discussion of regulated deficit irrigation, which not only saves water, but may be used as a strategy against hull rot, and assists early, uniform crop maturity as an aid to navel orangeworm control.

Updates of ongoing research on tree nutrition come next. Growers have indicated the desire to base fertilizer application rates on the demands of their trees as the season progresses. Studies under way will aid growers in managing fertility programs with more precision to maximize returns and optimize fertility use in almonds. With escalating fertilizer prices, the time has never been better to learn about the potassium and nitrogen research results gleaned from harvest 2008.

Growers’ increased role in building demand

This years' theme “Shaping our Destiny” relates in no small way to the increased role growers play in creating consumer demand. U.S. retail and foodservice giants, such as Wal-Mart and SYSCO, are actively engaged in sustainability initiatives, primarily due to the ground swell of consumer demand for information on how their food is grown. Demonstrating that an industry is incorporating best agricultural practices is a growing influence in consumer and retailer buying decisions — and increasingly a requirement.

When it comes to the almond industry, grower surveys indicate support for a sustainability platform based on economic viability, that would improve perceptions of regulators, the public and environmental organizations. Actions that address important issues such as water usage, climate change, energy usage, and fertilizer usage are already being implemented by a high percentage of almond growers. And, there is also a legacy of environmental stewardship within the almond industry.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 10, you are encouraged to participate in a lively panel discussion on sustainability, with representation from farm to fork, as we look at defining a sustainability platform that is appropriate for the almond industry.

Registration for the 36th Almond Growers' Industry Conference is free. Tickets for luncheons and the Dec. 10 Gala may also be purchased online. Buses will be running up and down the valley to help with your transportation needs. Call Pam Hawkins, of Mosaic Events at 415-908-2650, or e-mail phawkins@mosaicevents.com by Nov. 1 to arrange transportation.