As in any successful relationship, communication is the cornerstone of a successful partnership between field researchers and grower cooperators.

More than half of the $3 million in production and environmental stewardship research funded by the Almond Board of California each year relies on grower cooperators. These field research trials over the last four decades have provided practical solutions to problems facing California almond growers. In reality, all modern practices employed by the state’s growers were once researched and developed in grower cooperator research trials.

If managed well, commercial trials can provide benefits for growers, researchers and the industry at large. Rob Baker, who manages the Belridge division near Lost Hills for Paramount Farming Co., says participating in research over the years has provided valuable feedback and information that Belridge can integrate into its production program. It also places Belridge at the forefront of developing practices and helps nurture relationships with the research community where these practices are being forged.

UC Cooperative Extension almond specialist Bruce Lampinen says involving grower cooperators offers the research community the benefit of gathering commercial data to test promising practices or understand impacts in a real-world setting.

But both agree this partnership comes with challenges.

Belridge typically has a couple of large-scale trials going on at once, including one five-year almond nutrition trial now in its final stages. At any one time more than a dozen principal investigators might be looking at plots at Belridge Farms. Baker stresses the importance of two-way communication both in the advance planning of the trial and ongoing throughout the season.

Pre-planning meetings between the research team and Belridge’s PCA and fertilizer and irrigation managers help lay out the expectations of both researchers and Belridge staff. Baker assigns a point person on staff to each research plot and puts Cooperative Extension folks in touch with his PCA.

“Initially we have a meeting to talk about the goal and plan for the research and plot it out. We assign whom to call and directions for researchers coming into the field,” Baker says. “From there, we’re talking or emailing probably weekly.”

While most growers and researchers go into multi-year research trials with the best intentions, in reality, it can be a challenge, particularly around harvest time when growers are on a tight schedule to get nuts shaken and picked up and researchers are trying to work within those narrow windows to collect harvest data that is essential to meaningful trial results.