Protecting Soil Health and Food Safety in Almond Orchards

Working to Address Soil Health

Program Contact

LaKisha Odom

Drs. Patrick Brown & Sat Darshan Khalsa

University of California, Davis

Year Awarded   2018

FFAR award amount   $225

Total award amount   $450

Location   Davis, CA

Program   Seeding Solutions

Matching Funders   Almond Board of California, Crown Nut Company, Ples Due Family Farms and Westwind Farms, Inc.

  • Soil Health

What challenge is this research grant tackling?

California’s almond industry produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds and contributes $21 billion to the state’s economy. Currently, growers collect almonds after they fall to the orchard floor. To ensure food safety, however, the ground must be cleared of organic material that would contaminate the fruit. These harvesting techniques require synthetic fertilizers and additional water, creating extra costs for growers and depriving soil of essential nutrients

University of California, Davis researchers are testing mechanical advanced harvesting techniques that catch almonds before they fall, remove the hulls and shells and discard them on the orchard floor. These techniques use the almonds’ hulls and shells as organic matter fertilizer. Using the almond’s organic matter as fertilizer eliminates the need to clear the orchard floor and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and additional water. This advanced harvesting technique can also protect the topsoil, preserve essential nutrients and reduce water use.

Why is this research important?

This research is critical to protecting soil health and scaling up almond production while preserving food safety.

Environmental benefits

  • Organic matter fertilizer increases soil health and water efficiency.
  • On-site hulling reduces transportation emissions and fuel needs.

Almond grower benefits

  • Reduced costs.
    • Organic matter is cheaper than synthetic fertilizer and does not cause topsoil nutrient loss.
    • Lighter fruit weight from on-site hulling lowers transportation costs.
    • Organic matter reduces water needs.
  • The research identifies economic barriers to expanded production.

Consumer benefits

  • Avoiding almond contamination on the orchard floor prevents food waste and ensures food safety.

Research Details

Researchers are examining advanced harvesting practices that improve soil health and ensure food safety. The research team is testing methods of catching almond fruit in above-ground mechanical frames that do not disturb topsoil and allow growers to use the hulls as fertilizer.


  • Identify the impact of advanced harvest techniques on integrating organic matter use
  • Determine almond organic matter’s contribution to soil and tree nutrition and orchard productivity
  • Quantify organic matter’s effect on water use
  • Compare three regional organic matter sources—composted dairy manure, almond hulls and other green waste compost
  • Identify barriers to adopting best practices local and statewide

How This Research Contributes to FFAR’s Mission

We undertake actionable science that protects the environment, improves human health and helps farmers thrive. This research supports our mission by advancing orchard resiliency through improving soil health, supporting growers and enhancing the almond industry’s value to California.

Matching Funders

Almond Board of California, Crown Nut Company, Ples Due Family Farms and Westwind Farms, Inc.

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