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

    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 the dominant crop in California agriculture in terms of acreage and revenue generated. This study provided an innovative systems-level comparison of best management practices in regenerative and conventional almond production in Central CA. This 2-yr study: 1) Characterized the soil quality and biodiversity in almond production systems, with a special focus on soil carbon and pest management services; 2) Measured the relative yield and profitability of regenerative and conventional almond systems; and 3) Disseminated results to producers using a variety of learning tools. A character matrix of practices was 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 were measured. Insect communities on the soil surface, and pest damage to the nuts were quantified. Producer surveys provided the basis for a cost/benefit analysis of each orchard. The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and Ecdysis Foundation/Blue Dasher Farm have been working the share the study’s findings via the organizations’ networks. By providing clear and transparent empirical assessment of these two systems, this project hopes 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:

    The overall goal of this research was 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.