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Officials Meet Growers, Recognize Their Challenges [with video]

Tour host Gordon Heinrich’s son Eric demonstrates the use
of a pressure chamber to measure leaf water potential for
fine-tuning irrigation applications.
State and federal regulators who create rules related to water and air quality, endangered species, and pesticide and fertilizer use attended the Almond Board’s ninth annual Environmental Stewardship Tour in May, joining elected officials, media and other invited tour guests at Salida Hulling Association in Modesto.

The Environmental Stewardship Tour continues to provide a forum for almond growers to share the innovative ways they are addressing environmental challenges, while giving regulators a glimpse at current almond farming practices. For many of the guests it is their first time inside an almond orchard.

Almond grower Gordon Heinrich, whose family farming legacy in Stanislaus County spans five generations, cohosted this year’s tour with third-generation Modesto-area grower Garrett Bowman. Heinrich grows almonds, walnuts and field crops on some 650 acres, while Bowman works 550 acres of almonds. Both are longtime members of the 120-member Salida Hulling cooperative.

Hear from growers Garrett Bowman and Gordon Heinrich
as they discuss nitrogen management on their operations.
Bowman said nitrogen applications have evolved over the years for almond growers, who not long ago relied on one or two high-rate applications of macronutrients going into the season, but today spoon-feed those nutrients throughout the year as needed, based on preseason sampling and nitrogen budgeting. Sebastian Saa, from UC Davis, discussed research on new methods for adjusting those rates according to results of in-season tissue sampling. Some of that research took place in one of Bowman’s orchards, highlighting the partnership between growers and researchers.

Brian Leahy, (center) director of the California Department
of Pesticide Regulation, was among two dozen regulators
who attended this year’s Almond Environmental
Stewardship Tour.
Despite having a relatively abundant supply of high-quality surface water through the Modesto Irrigation District, Heinrich said he integrates technology and tree water status measurements to deliver the right amount of water to the root zone. This not only improves yield and quality, but also reduces the chance that water is moving off-site or saturating the root zone. Heinrich spoon-feeds a few inches of water in 10 to 12 flood irrigation sets per season, applying a total of 3 to 3.5 acre-feet per year.

Heinrich’s son Eric demonstrated use of the pressure chamber and real-time soil moisture monitoring to dial in timing and rate of water applications for optimum efficiency. Pressure chambers also help him induce moderate stress, using deficit irrigation for hull rot management.

“Water management is the key to successfully growing an almond crop,” Heinrich said. “If you do water management right, everything else falls in behind it."

Hear from Brian Leahy as he discusses the importance of
bringing regulators out into the field.
Brian Leahy, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, attending his second environmental stewardship tour, said it is beneficial for him and his staff to visit an almond operation.

"It’s great for staff who are trying to figure out regulations to be on the ground. To see the almonds but also to see the growers and their challenges, and realize they are trying to do a very complex task," he said.

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