By Gabriele Ludwig, Associate Director, Environmental Affairs; Bob Curtis, Associate Director, Agricultural Affairs

The Almond Conference started nearly 40 years ago as an almond research conference for delivering reports on all the research funded by the Almond Board’s Production Research Committee to the industry. Today, the conference has grown into the largest single gathering of the state’s almond industry, annually attracting some 2,200 growers, handlers, suppliers, distributors, marketers, and researchers from around the world.

The Almond Board’s Production Research and Environmental Committees funded 54 research projects in 2010–11. Given the growth of the conference and volume of production research the Almond Board of California supports, it is no longer possible to cover the breadth of research taking place on behalf of California almond growers during presentations at the two-day conference. Still, this research remains a vital part of the Almond Board’s mission and the sustainable future of the industry.

While oral reports on each project are no longer possible, information on each individual research project is still available in poster sessions by the researchers and their associates. Although still in the early stages and often far removed from field application, research described on the posters is planting the seeds that will one day lead to significant field-level breakthroughs for almond growers in the areas of breeding, pest management and cultural management practices.

Variety development

In the area of breeding, for instance, researchers continue to perform early stage genetic research that leverages biotechnology in the pursuit of improved rootstocks and commercially viable self-pollinating varieties. While tedious, this laboratory-based research accelerates the time in which improved new varieties and rootstocks become available.

One project, under the leadership of UC Davis almond breeder Tom Gradziel, has been in the forefront of marker-assisted breeding as a means of identifying self-compatible varieties. The genomic research indentifies “markers” on genes associated with desirable traits. In crosses, the markers and associated traits can be tracked and it is possible to know quickly if progeny from crosses have desirable traits, even before the trait is expressed. This speeds up breeding and selection.  Another project, led by Malli Aradhya and Craig Ledbetter (USDA-ARS, UC Davis and Parlier), is identifying markers for almond rootstock development.  This set of molecular markers is linked to resistance or tolerance to soilborne pests and diseases such as Phytophthora, crown gall, Armillaria and lesion nematodes. Similarly, another project, by Jerry Dangle with UC Davis Foundation Plant Services, has developed methods using molecular markers to quickly and accurately determine self-compatibility orself-incompatibilityof experimental varieties.  This procedure is offered though the Plant Identification Lab at Foundation Plant Services, UC Davis,and is already being used by almond nurseries.

NOW Research

In pest management, we currently have early stage research evolving from two decades of initial research on mating disruption for navel orangeworm that is likely to lead to significant breakthroughs in the management of this important pest through the use of pheromone mating disruption.

A number of individual research projects are working synergistically to produce better management strategies for navel orangeworm. They are looking at chemical attractants emitted by the pest both for control by mating disruption and as a monitoring tool.  In addition, investigations are under way on kairomone attractants emitted by the tree itself, which, like insect pheromones, have the potential to be used in traps for monitoring or in control. Research is also looking at the pest’s ability to detoxify pesticides and the implications of that trait in spray efficacy and chemical control technology. These lab-focused projects are an important precursor to research that can revolutionize pest control practices in the orchard.

A series of smaller projects led by farm advisors throughout almond growing regions are looking at a number of cultural and orchard management practices to improve yields and production in the orchard.

In Merced County, farm advisor David Doll is looking at salinity tolerance of almond rootstocks. This research already has revealed that trees on peach-almond hybrid rootstocks have fared much better under saline conditions than trees on peach rootstocks in terms of symptoms and yield.

Pruning studies

Another important project led by farm advisor Carolyn DeBuse in Solano and Yolo counties is looking at timing for pruning young almond trees to inhibit the development of canker-causing pathogens. Butte County farm advisor Joe Connell is current leading a trial that looks at increasing the percentage of Nonpareil in relation to pollenizers with the objective of improving Nonpareil yield per acre.

An additional project is looking at factors with implications on controlling tenlined June beetle. This effort is led by farm advisor Elizabeth Fichtner in Tulare County. Improving foliar boron nutrition is the focus of studies led by farm advisor Franz Niederholzer in Colusa/Sutter/Yuba counties.

Additional posters will share information about pruning research that is already changing how growers prune. Newer research on carbon sequestration from chipping material added to the soil illustrates how older research that initially addressed one area, in this case chipping to address burning and air quality, can lead to possible breakthroughs for almond growers in other areas, such as carbon offsets and climate change.

There will be a lot going on at this year’s 39th annual Almond Conference, but we encourage you to take a few minutes and stop by the poster sessions, visit with researchers and learn more about the extent of research going on and what it might mean for growers down the line. Annual reports and posters will be online after January 2012.

To learn more about The Almond Conference and to register, go to AlmondBoard.com/Conference.