State and federal regulators who craft rules that impact agriculture related to water and air quality, endangered species, pesticide and fertilizer use attended the Almond Board’s ninth annual Environmental Stewardship Tour on May 17, joining elected officials, media and other invited tour guests at Salida Hulling Association in Modesto.

The Environmental Stewardship Tour provides a forum for almond growers to share the innovative ways they are addressing environmental challenges, while giving regulators a first-hand glimpse at current almond farming practices. For many of the guests, it is their first time inside an almond orchard.

Almond grower Gordon Heinrich, whose family-farming legacy in Stanislaus County spans five generations, cohosted this year’s tour with third-generation Modesto-area grower Garrett Bowman. Heinrich grows almonds, walnuts and field crops on some 650 acres, while Bowman works 550 acres of almonds. Both are long-time members of the 120-member Salida Hulling cooperative.

Changes in Nitrogen Management

Bowman said nitrogen applications have evolved over the years for almond growers, who not long ago relied on one or two higher rates of application of macronutrients during the season, but today spoon-feed those nutrients throughout the growing season as needed. Rates are based on leaf sampling conducted at the end of the previous growing season and nitrogen budgeting protocol. Sebastian Saa, from UC Davis, discussed research on new methods for adjusting those rates according to results of in-season tissue sampling. Some of that research took place in one of Bowman’s orchard, highlighting the partnership between growers and researchers.

“In the past our N management plan was to take leaf samples in July to see where our N management ended up, and then we would make adjustments for the following year,” Bowman said. “We would start off with a fairly large nitrogen application in the fall, followed by an application at bloom time and then one again in early summer.

“We’ve evolve from that to where we are making a small application in fall followed by a small application around bloom time. Then we take tissue analysis in April, use university models to predict what our July levels will be and then we make in-season adjustments that same year based on estimated crop load,” Bowman said.



Sustainable Pest Management

Bowman told the tour participants that his pest management plan also revolves around sampling and monitoring and using the most sustainable control method possible.

“When we do determine there is a pest problem, we look at any mechanical means that may be available to control that pest and all options available to make a decision based on the effects on the environment, cost and ease of application,” he said.

Despite having a relatively abundant supply of high-quality surface water through Modesto Irrigation District, Heinrich said he integrates technology and tree water status measurements to deliver the right amount of water to the root zone. This not only improves yield and quality, but also reduces the chance that water is moving off-site or saturating the root zone.