Poling almonds to knock mummy nutsThe Modesto-based Almond Board of California wants to triple the number of almond growers who have participated in its sustainability program during the next year.

In the coming months, the board will conduct a number of workshops to help growers conduct self-assessments of their practices, says Gabriele Ludwig, Almond Board director of regulatory and technical affairs.

The board unveiled the California Almond Sustainability Program at last year's Almond Conference in December.

The almond board also plans to launch an electronic version of the self-assessment so growers can complete it at their convenience on their own computers.

So far, about 200 growers have participated, she says.

"The first year was just trying to figure out how to do it and what it takes for growers to participate," Ludwig says.

The board has set a goal of 600 growers by the end of 2012.

That number represents about 10 percent of the state's almond growers, she says.

As part of its effort, Ludwig says the board hopes to team with handlers to encourage greater grower participation.

The program comprises two parts—a grower self-assessment of their operation and a set of educational modules.

The self-assessment asks growers about specific practices and whether they are aware of them.

If they are aware of them, it then asks whether they employ them on their operation. If not, it asks why.

Ludwig admits that writing down cultural practices may be a radical idea for some growers.

"It's an opportunity to reflect on your own operation, not just how you irrigate and not just what you're doing for NOW [navel orangeworm]," she says.

Not only do the self-assessments prompt growers to take a hard look at their operations, but the information helps guide the board in developing educational modules, Ludwig says.

The self-assessments also provide baseline information so growers can return in a few years, conduct another review and compare the differences.

"Now that we have 200 or more participants, we'll give them a report back to see how their answers compare to everybody else's," Ludwig says.

The information is presented in a way that maintains confidentiality.

So far, five educational modules are available. They were developed in conjunction with the University of California Cooperative Extension and SureHarvest, an Soquel, Calif.-based consulting firm.

The modules cover irrigation, nutrient management, energy, air and pest management.

Certified Crop Adviser, or CCA, credit is available for each module.

The almond board's program is based loosely on the highly successful Sustainable Wine Growing program developed by the California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Wine Institute.

Ludwig says the almond board saw a need for such a program becauase of feedback from customers, who are increasingly focused on sustainability.

She also views the program as a continuing effort for seasons to come.

"This is a program, not a one-time event," Ludwig says. "The whole idea is to show improvement.

Three free workshops are scheduled in the coming weeks. They are:

• Nov. 18—New Earth Market, Yuba City, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (includes lunch)

• Nov. 29—Heidrick Ag History Center, Woodland, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (includes lunch)

• Dec. 6—Center Plaza, Modesto, 2-5 p.m. This self-assessment workshop preceeds the Almond Conference.

For questions about the workshops or to register, contact Debbie Hunter at (209) 343-3230 or dhunter@almondboard.com.

For more information on the sustainability program, visit the Almond Board.