Growers often hesitate to invite regulators onto their property. “Why invite scrutiny,” they reason.

But almond grower and handler Dick Braden of Braden Farms warmly welcomed regulators during the Almond Board’s Fourth Environmental Stewardship Tour in February. After all, Braden Farms has a great story to tell.

Some 30 state and federal regulators, local dignitaries and media members toured Braden’s 13,000-acre almond operation in Hickman, Calif., to learn first-hand what he and other growers are doing to address environmental issues, including air and water quality, reduced-risk pest management and endangered species.

The tour highlighted new technologies and methods designed to reduce the impact of almond production on the environment. At Braden Farms, land is laser leveled and designed with collection ponds and cover crops to reduce fertilizer and soil runoff into nearby waterways. Micro-irrigation systems help Braden reduce water use and runoff and apply fertilizers more efficiently. And pests are managed through careful monitoring and timely sprays of softer insecticides.

The tour also spotlighted new harvesting technologies that are drastically cutting air quality emissions at harvest. Regulators viewed new sweepers and pick-up machines that reduce dust and also save fuel and reduce emissions by eliminating passes and truck traffic during the three-step harvesting process.

Pamela Creedon, executive officer with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, appreciated the opportunity to get a field-level view of the operations they regulate. In addition to the regional board, representatives attended from other agencies including Cal DPR, U.S. EPA, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Control District, and the State Water Resources Control Board.

Kathy Taylor, associate director of Agricultural Programs with U.S. EPA Region 9, attended the tour and touted almond industry efforts to tackle environmental challenges voluntarily rather than through the “blunt hammer of regulation.” The Almond Board’s Environmental Committee has partnered with U.S. EPA for years to incorporate their regulatory priorities for land, air and water into the study of approaches for more environmentally friendly almond production.

The committee this year is funding $400,000 in research to address environmental issues, including the study of harvest dust generation, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality mitigation measures and site-specific soil fumigation.

These types of voluntary partnerships are imperative, and Taylor says they are actually the preferred route for regulators as well. She noted that farmers know best how to implement sustainable crop production practices that address environmental priorities while protecting the growers’ bottom line.

As regulatory pressures continue to mount, the almond industry will continue to look for ways to open dialogue with the regulatory community and address environmental issues in a proactive and sustainable way — both for the farmer and for the environment.