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Environmental Tour Shows Off Innovative Almond Growing Practices

Mike Burden explains how sediment settlement ponds
are helping Jackson-Rodden Ranch reclaim nitrogen-rich
tailwater from area farms for use in its own orchards.
Regulators, elected officials, media and other invited guests got a firsthand look at innovative almond growing practices related to water, nutrient and pest management at the Almond Board of California’s eighth annual Environmental Stewardship Tour on May 11.

The tour highlighted technologies and innovations that are helping Jackson-Rodden Ranch near Oakdale optimize the efficiency of its growing operations while maintaining its commitment to be environmental stewards.

Brian Leahy, director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, which had a large contingency at this year’s event, said the Environmental Stewardship Tour offers a rare opportunity for those who write and enforce environmental regulations to see growing practices firsthand and the implications of those regulations in the field.

“It’s invaluable for us to see what growers are doing,” Leahy said. “There is a tendency to get lost in your own culture, and it is good for us to get out and meet with folks one-on-one. When we are considering regulations for an industry, if we know people in the industry, we realize we are not putting rules on an industry, but putting them on real people.”

Farm manager Mike Burden of Lent-Burden Farming explained how the 5,000-acre ranch converted a tailwater drainage area for neighboring water districts into a series of sediment settlement ponds, and is now reclaiming the nitrogen-rich tailwater for irrigation, keeping it out of environmentally sensitive surface waterways. Burden said the tailwater return system provides enough water to irrigate 600 acres of almonds and walnuts at about 10% of the cost of pumping supplemental water from its deep wells. The reclaimed tailwater also provides 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre when used to irrigate the orchard. This amount of N is taken into account in the overall nutrient management budget.

Leahy said Jackson-Rodden’s sediment basin provides a perfect example of sustainability.

“The real definition of sustainability is when you take a misplaced resource and use it somewhere else at a fraction of the cost. Nothing is sustainable until it makes you more efficient at the end of the day,” Leahy said.

Burden also shared how high-tech soil, weather and water monitoring systems are helping integrate technology into its drip irrigation and fertilizer decision-making for optimum efficiency. Jackson-Rodden also relies on cultural practices, such as winter sanitation and irrigation management at harvest, to greatly reduce its reliance on pesticides for controlling key almond pests and diseases, including navel orangeworm, mites and hull rot.

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