Conventional vs. regenerative almond orchards, with regards to invertebrate biomass and biodiversity, soil health, food safety, and profitability

Project Overview

GW19-193
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2021
Grant Recipient: California State University East Bay
Region: Western
State: California
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Major Professor:
Dr. Patty Oikawa
California State University East Bay
Dr. Erica Wildy
California State University East Bay

Commodities

  • Nuts: almonds

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops, drought tolerance, fertilizers, food product quality/safety, no-till, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, hedgerows, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: competition
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Regenerative agriculture has the potential to increase biodiversity and promote key biological processes while reducing farmer investment in mechanical and chemical inputs over conventional monoculture production systems.  Almonds are California’s second highest grossing crop, and represent an excellent study system for comparing conventional and regenerative orchard management practices. This study provides an innovative systems-level comparison of best management practices in regenerative and conventional almond production in Central CA. This 2-yr study will 1) Characterize the soil quality and biodiversity in almond production systems, with a special focus on soil carbon and pest management services; 2) Measure the relative yield and profitability of regenerative and conventional almond systems; and 3) Disseminate results to producers using a variety of learning tools. A character matrix of practices is used to designate orchards as regenerative or conventional. In replicated plots, soil organic matter, total soil carbon and nitrogen, microbial biomass and diversity, water infiltration, and bulk density will be measured. Insect communities on the soil surface, as well as pest populations in the orchard canopy will be enumerated. Food borne pathogens in the soil will be quantified. Producer surveys will provide the basis for a cost/benefit analysis of each orchard. To date four regenerative and four conventional orchards have been sampled. In 2019 another four regenerative and four conventional orchards will be sampled. Together with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and Ecdysis Foundation/Blue Dasher Farm, findings will be shared via the organizations’ networks. By providing clear and transparent empirical assessment of these two systems, we will improve the profitability of farmers, improve the natural resource base on almond orchard, and increase the quality of life for farmers and their communities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall goal of this research is to provide critical data and education that removes perceived barriers for the adoption of regenerative almond production systems. Specific objectives of the proposal include:

    • Characterize the soil quality and biodiversity present on regenerative and conventional almond production systems, with a special focus on soil carbon and pest management services.
    • Measure the relative yield and profitability of regenerative and conventional almond systems, identifying key cost and benefits of the two systems.
    • Disseminate results to producers using a variety of learning tools, including web-based documents, presentations at grower meetings, in-person field days, interviews with local and national media outlets, and peer reviewed scientific articles.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.