- Nuts: almonds
- Animals: sheep
- Crop Production: alley cropping, food product quality/safety
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
Interest in integrating cover crops and grazing into conventional almond farming practices is growing. However, almonds are harvested by shaking the nuts onto the ground, sweeping them to row middles and mechanically collecting them. Since about 70% of almonds are not pasteurized, the presence of grazing animals and manure on the orchard floor raises concerns about food safety; the industry standard to maintain food safety is to avoid grazing in almond orchards.
Documented benefits of cover crops in orchards include more effective nutrient cycling, reduced fertilizer use, and increased water infiltration. Grazing further enhances these benefits by reducing herbicide use, synthetic fertilizers, and fuel for tractors. However, the actual food safety risks of sheep grazing in almond orchards are unknown. We propose to assess the presence of foodborne pathogens in orchard soils where cover crops are grazed by sheep.
For broader adoption of sheep grazing, in addition to data on food safety risks, producers need to know the economic feasibility of using sheep to manage vegetation in orchards. Currently, there is no cost analysis of grazing in orchards. There is a perception that grazing will cost more than conventional methods. It is also possible that grazing may cost less, or that higher returns could offset increased costs. A cost analysis will help producers understand the tradeoffs and make the best decision for their operations. We will compare the costs and returns of conventional almond production to the costs and returns in a livestock-integrated almond orchard system.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Test for the prevalence and die-off of fecal pathogens in the soil of almond orchards grazed by sheep to understand the food safety risk of ground-harvested almonds in a grazed system.
- Complete a cost analysis comparing the costs and returns of conventional almond production to the costs and returns from a livestock and crop integrated almond production system.