“Here’s the inconvenient truth: People love farmers, they just hate agriculture,” said Mel Machado, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers.
Machado spoke about the need for the industry to demonstrate sustainability at the annual Almond Conference, where he said he was encouraged to see a crowd many times larger than in earlier years come out to hear about the Almond Board’s sustainability program, CASP.
“Simply stated, why should you be involved in this? Because customers and consumers want it,” Machado said.
Machado said when he visits audiences and asks who is directly involved in production agriculture, the number is a few percent when he asks children and teens. When he asks parents in the crowd, 15-20% raise their hands. For grandparents, the number of hands is far more.
His point: fewer and fewer people are directly involved in agriculture and understand what growers and farmers are like, and what the business is like.
That matters when there’s a drought, Machado said, and he said that when bad press came along in the last major California drought, Almond Board sustainability data captured by the CASP program was a potent defense against negative press.
“You would have had your lunch eaten,” without the information from CASP as a defense in the last drought, Machado said.
“We have to comm to that non-farm community where we’re going,” Machado said. “To the growers, I would say you already have the data. Fertilizer records, irrigation records, pesticide records, but they’re not in one place…why is it relevant to you (to participate and report data)? It boils down to the ‘right to farm’ and economic profitability.”
The Almond Board feels strongly about defending almond growers’ image and right to farm.
That’s why the Almond Board is very flexible in working with growers to gather sustainability information, said Spencer Cooper, the Almond Board’s senior manager of irrigation and water efficiency. Cooper encouraged growers to fill out sustainability reports online, by phone, or even by calling the Almond Board and asking to do an in-person meeting.
Cooper’s in-person meetings include assessments to help growers improve their irrigation practices to get the most crop per drop.
“This is an assessment. It lets you look at your farming operation, lets you take a 30,000 foot view. It benchmarks you, compares to the rest of the industry, shows you what you’re doing, shows you what they’re doing,” Cooper said. “There’s one thing you will notice: it never tells you how to farm. All it is is an assessment to help you see what you’re doing.”
For information on how aerial imaging can detect water stress in almonds, see this post.
Using the resources of the Almond Board benefits individual growers by cutting nitrogen costs and saving water, while improving yields, but it also helps the industry as a whole, said Julie Adams, the Almond Board’s vice president of global technical, regulatory & government affairs.
“If we’re not speaking the same language with our customers and our consumers, we’re going to be at a disadvantage,” Adams told growers. “And if we don’t use the same language, they don’t know we have the same priorities...think about the media and all of the attention. That’s not going to go away, we’re going to be part of the story.”
That’s the reason the Almond Board developed its sustainability program, and the reason it continues to encourage growers to take advantage of it--so almonds can be a positive part of the public understanding for years to come.
“It’s about you being able to tell the story, and demonstrate with the supply chain that you’re already doing things that address what people are concerned about,” Adams said.