Baker tries to get shaker schedules and anticipated pickup dates in advance to researchers and otherwise keep the team in the loop and updated. For instance, rain and other variables sometimes get in the way of planned schedules. He also notes that communication has to go both ways. Graduate students or others not in on the early planning stages or unfamiliar with the routine sometimes ask to enter orchards without calling first or at the last moment, but equipment obstacles, irrigation schedules, reentry intervals or other factors may prohibit that access.

Lampinen’s statewide project to collect information on light interception and its relationship to yield under different management regimes is revolutionizing how almonds orchards are designed and managed. But the sheer magnitude of the light-bar trial, on 40 different grower plots throughout California, can be a logistical nightmare for researchers, at harvest time in particular.

Researchers must load the harvest trailer at a moment’s notice to get to a field site sometimes three to five hours away to work around last-minute harvest schedules. On more than one occasion researchers arrive to find the plot has been harvested before researchers could measure yield in those test rows and valuable data is lost.

“In the case of the light bar tests, without the harvest data we lose the most important piece of information,” Lampinen says. “Fortunately we now have much better harvest equipment with GPS, larger capacity and self-contained hydraulics so we don’t slow growers down much at all and it’s much less of a hassle, so that is helping.”

Lampinen notes that both growers and researchers are balancing a lot of variables and that is where communication comes in, particularly at the front end of the season.

The bottom line is, research plots are a covenant between the grower and researcher. This covenant, to be successful, requires both grower cooperators and researchers to communicate and understand the goal of the research and what is expected of each of them.

Growers should ask a lot of direct questions of research teams at the outset so that there are no surprises down the line: How will this change the day-to-day operation? What is expected, in terms of time and resources, of you as a grower or your personnel? What guidance can you expect on treatments or is this strictly an observation plot? How will the trial impact your cultural practices, such as irrigation, fertility and pest management, and should you check in when contemplating a cultural practice? How might the trial impact yield or quality? How might the trial affect the trees in the long run? And what do researchers need from the grower in terms of harvest?

The more communication there is going into the trial the more likely there will be a successful partnership with a successful outcome. Commercial trials do provide benefits for growers, researchers, and the industry at large. Despite the challenges almond growers continue to participate in field research and the industry owes them a debt of gratitude. For without this research, many of today’s common practices that have led to dramatic increases in yield and improved quality, along with efficient and environmentally responsible orchard management, would not have been discovered.