The California Almond industry will collaborate in four research projects that were recently awarded nearly $1.5 million in matching grant funds under the USDA's 2009 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

The three-year projects include: implementing an almond sustainability initiative for integrated water and nutrient management; establishing best management practices to ensure long-term sustainability of managed bee colonies; developing rootstocks with improved resistance to soil pathogens; and creating nut tree phenology models to better understand crop development and the potential impacts on nut crops of global warming.

The Almond Board of California has provided matching funds to support these and other related research projects.

"All of these projects complement work that almond growers through the Almond Board of California have committed significant resources to and will leverage some of the knowledge we have gained in these areas over the last 30 years," said Bob Curtis, associate director of Agricultural Affairs for the Almond Board of California. Among the almond-related projects that received grant funding:

1. Almond Sustainability Initiative: Integrated Water and Nutrient Resource Management, SureHarvest. $345,000. The Almond Board of California will collaborate with SureHarvest on an integrated water and nutrient resource management project. The goal of the collaboration will be to provide industrywide outreach, benchmarking and decision-making tools to help increase almond grower water and nutrient resource use efficiency.

2. Best Management Practices for Honey Bees Pollinating California's Specialty Crops: Project Apis m (PAm). $254,400. Project Apis m, a cooperative effort established by growers and beekeepers in 2006 to fund honey bee research, will use grant money to improve pollination services for California almonds and other specialty crops. The project aims to develop sustainable Best Management Practices for commercially managed honey bees and implement an outreach program to educate commercial beekeepers about those practices.

3. Development of almond, stone fruit and walnut rootstocks with resistance to soilborne diseases: USDA ARS. $471,740. USDA's Agricultural Research Service will develop new rootstocks with resistance to targeted soilborne pathogens to reduce yield loss and maximize production while reducing reliance on traditional soil fumigants.

4. Tree phenology models for climate change projection and improved water and nutrient management: UC Davis. $405,903. Researchers will develop growth models for tree nut crops in California based on new methods for deriving chilling hour and heat unit requirements in almonds, walnuts and pistachios. Information will be used to determine the impact of climate change on the long-term viability of nut crops in California, and predict various growth stages to guide production management decisions.

California received $16.3 million in specialty crop block grants under the USDA's Specialty Crops Block Grants Program authorized by the 2008 farm bill.

ABC's Associate Director of Environmental Affairs Gabriele Ludwig said the additional Specialty Crop Grant funding will help ensure the competitiveness and long-term sustainability of almonds and other specialty crops in California.

"We appreciate the opportunity to be involved in these projects and have access to this funding to further the competitiveness of California almonds and other specialty crops," Ludwig said.