FFAR Awards $225,000 Grant to UC Davis to Enhance Soil Practices in Almond Orchards

Patrick H. Brown, Plant Sciences professor at UC Davis, examining almond trees as part of a new research project to increase field recycling of nutrients and improve soil health. (photo Pedro Lima/UC Davis)

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 and 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.

Bowl of almonds
(photo Almond Board of California)

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,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director. “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.”

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.

Almonds on tree
(photo UC ANR)

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.

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Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.
Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

University of California, Davis
UC Davis is a public institution, land-grant university and pioneer in interdisciplinary problem-solving. Its four colleges, five professional schools, more than 100 academic majors, and 86 graduate programs make it the most comprehensive of all ten University of California campuses. UC Davis is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in Plant Sciences.
Connect to Plant Sciences: @UCDavisPlants | Plant Sciences news

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