Almonds have two popular images in the world; one is of a healthy nutmeat that can be used as anything from a grain flour to a milk substitute, in addition to providing fibre, vitamins and protein. The other is of an environmental evil, sucking up water that could surely go to better uses. These are both oversimplifications but have a basis in reality, and Australian almond growers have taken on the task of making almond crops more environmentally friendly.
Almonds are one of the top foods in the nuts and seeds category, packing more nutrients than others in the same food group, so producers don't want to stop growing them. However, producers are very aware that reducing crop water usage and changing other aspects of the growing process are necessary if the country wants to keep growing and eating these tasty morsels.
Self-Fertilising Trees and Less Water Use
One innovation has been the breeding of more self-fertilising trees. Not only does this preserve almond crops in the wake of bee colony devastation, but these trees appear to have higher crop yields with the same care. This means that these trees not only reduce the need to find bees for pollination, but they also are more efficient in using water, producing more almonds without using more water. This helps keep crop production up while not draining water sources.
Changing Tree Planting Density for Reduced Fertiliser Use
Some growers have found that denser tree-planting layouts make fertiliser use more efficient as well. Almond production relies heavily on water and fertiliser use, with less water/fertiliser resulting in fewer almonds per tree. But a denser layout in almond fields actually makes fertiliser use more efficient, allowing growers to produce healthy crops while using less fertiliser per tree. While trees that are too close together can result in over-competition for nutrient resources, dense planting that still gives the trees a little room likely results in less wasted fertiliser that never makes it into tree roots.
Reducing and Changing Pesticide Use
While planting methods and tree types help with sustainability, so do straightforward changes like using fewer pesticides and changing the types of pesticides used. Growers can switch to organic pesticides to help make the process friendlier to the environment.
Australian almond growers are well aware of how dependent they are on nature and how preserving resources now will help them continue to produce their crops. Support those growers who are doing what they can to be sustainable.