FFAR Awards Grant to Enhance Soil Practices in Almond Orchards

  • Soil Health

DAVIS and WASHINGTON (March 28, 2019) – More than 80 percent of the world’s almonds are produced in California and this industry contributes $21 billion to the state’s economy. In recognition of the need to develop more resilient almond orchards, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $225,000 Seeding Solutions Grant to the University of California, Davis, to improve soil health in almond orchards. The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from the Almond Board of California and almond growers for a total $450,000 investment.

Currently, almond growers clean the orchard floor so that no weeds, manures or organic matter are left before harvest begins. Almond harvesters then shake the trees to encourage the almond fruit to fall to the ground, where it dries out before growers transfer the fruit in its hull and shell to processing facilities. Since the almonds touch the ground during harvest, growers are not able to use manures, composts or other materials added to the soil that would contaminate the nuts.

The current practice deprives the soil of vital nutrients and creates additional costs for growers. Hulls and shells contain nitrogen and potassium, which the trees need to thrive. Clearing away the hulls and shells means growers must fertilize more. The hulls and shells are also 70 percent of the total almond weight, adding to transportation costs.

However, if the almond hulls and shells are left on the ground, they would improve the soil and save money.

“Healthy soils hold nutrients better, hold water better, improve crop disease resilience, capture carbon and reduce nitrogen leaching,” said Patrick H. Brown, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “This whole system change that eliminates almond contact with the orchard floor has the potential to reduce herbicide, fertilizer and pesticide use.”

UC Davis’s research will test advanced almond harvesting practices that increase soil fertility while ensuring food safety. The research team will catch almond fruits with machinery before they fall to the ground, removing their hulls in the field and recycling them on the orchard floor instead of discarding them in processing facilities. Eliminating the on-the-ground portion of the harvest will improve the ability of growers to use compost, manure and other materials designed to improve soil health.

The importance of protecting soil health and fertility cannot be overstated. If almond growers want to preserve their farms for future generations, we must identify harvesting methods that bolster soil quality. This research both ensures the continued success of today’s almond growers and invests in soil health improvement practices that will benefit the next generations of growers. Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
Executive Director Emeritus

Brown’s team will provide the results of this research to commercial growers, industry stakeholders and other researchers to ultimately ensure the continued success of almond growers in the future.

FFAR’s Seeding Solutions Grant program is an open call for bold ideas that address pressing food and agriculture issues in one of the Foundation’s Challenge Areas. UC Davis’s research furthers FFAR’s 2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area, now the Soil Health Challenge Area, which enriches soil by building knowledge, fueling innovation and enabling the adoption of soil management practices.


Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

CONTACT: Colleen Klemczewski, 202.204.2605, cklemczewski@foundationfar.org

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