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.