The California Almond Industry continues to impress as a science-driven high-performance industry with growing output and a remarkable level of smart technology While we see record harvests every year the pressure on the almond board to stimulate sufficient consumption all over the world is growing Water also remains an issue for the industry Axel Breuer asked the new chairman of the Almond Board, Mike Mason and Richard Waycott, CEO about the current and future developments and challenges.
Congratulations to your new position as Chairman.
Please tell us a bit about your background.
I am an almond grower in the Wasco area. We also have a packing and shipping facility in Wasco – Supreme Almonds of California. We farm about 2,500 acres collectively, but we also pack and ship almonds for about 200 other growers.
Which are the major topics you are currently dealing with as a grower?
As a grower it is always the same topic (laughing): Regulation, regulation, regulation. New regulations come whether you are using a specific product. A lot has to do with Sgma (Sustainable Groundwater Manage- ment Act), the groundwater regulation: Each basin now has to come with its own sustain- ability plan, that is due in 2020, if you are se- verely over drafted. If we are taking out more than we are putting in than it is probably not sustainable – that makes some sense. There are certain pesticides and herbicides that we use that have problematic public percep- tion – there is not a lot of science behind the criticism, no risk assessment. Some- times it is just the public perception that all pesticides are bad so we have to get rid of all of them. I am still wondering about that because I think if farming is not sustaina- ble I do not know which business is because it is the oldest human industry. And we do have a good story to tell. But there is room for improvement. People need to understand what farming is all about. The almond indus- try has the CASP program (SustainableAl- mondGrowing.org), which started in 2009 to improve and communicate sustainabil- ity issues. In our current evaluation of our carbon footprint we can factor in the burning of our biomass. And the amount of solar that the almond industry has installed in the last years is phenomenal. That has not been fac- tored into our carbon calculation. We might be able to become carbon-neutral in the near future.
Are you still concerned about media and public awareness about the almond industry like the uproar about water use? (See the Mother Jones article from 2014)
Over the last 20 years we have reduced the amount of water it takes to grow almonds about a third – by better management, better irrigation systems, better moisture monitoring. We have introduced the so- called Almond Irrigation Continuum last year and we have already gone through all three steps (minimum, intermediate, advanced).
Some of our colleagues went to Israel for a meeting with Netafim, specialist company for irrigation systems. In December we are starting their latest technology with a vari- able rate precision irrigation. We are isolat- ing much smaller areas that can be treated individually. It’s not a totally new idea but we are fine-tuning all the aspects to achieve the optimum performance. Hopefully we will be able to roll out these methods. We just get a lot more productivity with the same amount of water.
What is your forecast for almond production in California?