Almonds, my favorite healthy snack, are a staple on grocery store shelves around the world. More than 80% of these almonds are grown in California. As perennials, almond trees have unparalleled needs and challenges for farmers.
Sat Darshan Khalsa, a member of the American Soil Science Society, examines how almond trees use basic nutrient nitrogen. He recently presented his research at the Virtual 2020 ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting.
How does almond farming, a perennial leafy crop, differ from traditional crops?
“These products must intersect between agricultural and forest ecosystems,” Halsa explains. “Similar to annual cropping systems, perennial almond-leaf crops are grown intensively. They get water with high amounts of fertilizers and high nutrients. ”
At the same time, crops such as almonds are managed in non-agricultural areas with minimal soil degradation. Planting or digging in any way will damage the roots of the trees. In addition, almond trees shed their leaves, wood texture grows, and undergo other processes similar to trees in a real forest. All this affects the carbon, nitrogen and other nutrient cycles.
These features can often mean that food is leaking from the field. They can enter areas such as groundwater aquifers, which can affect the drinking water supply for rural areas. Khalsa’s case tried to minimize this issue.
“Nitrogen is a key nutrient for productivity,” he says. “At the same time, it is an important polluter that affects air and water quality. Thanks to our work, we can show that many almond growers in California are in good condition to maintain high productivity. At the same time, they can maintain or even improve the quality of the environment. ”
Halsa and colleagues specifically explored a concept called nitrogen utilization efficiency. Helps balance the application of sufficient nitrogen to the field while maintaining the quality of the environment. Studies show that it is possible to achieve high levels of nitrogen utilization efficiency using a variety of protection practices.
One method of protection is called nutrient budgeting. It is a technique that is precisely measured to try to keep inputs and outputs from a field as balanced as possible. They also follow the nutrients in the leaves and in the soil.
Another technique is called fertilization, in which the fertilizer is applied in a highly targeted manner through an irrigation system. This allows plants to be accurately measured and timed to meet their needs. The work of the carpet group can be applied to other special crops around the world to help farmers earn higher incomes while producing nutritious food.
“Matching demand and supply is the foundation of the 4R framework to increase the efficiency of food management,” says Halsa. “The 4R framework is this: the right source of fertilizer, in the right proportions, at the right time, in the right place. This will help us to be more efficient. ”
The challenge remains to understand how plants like almonds circulate nitrogen from year to year and how farmers apply nitrogen fertilizer. Halsa emphasizes the importance of integrating their research with data networks, including Certified Plant Consultants and Cooperative Extension.
Efforts to address these agricultural challenges should focus on the wishes and needs of farmers, growers and industrial organizations. Such work helps to create new research opportunities, such as encouraging adoption and evaluating soil health practices in gardens.
Khalsa encourages researchers to maintain interest at every stage of the food value chain. This allows them to better understand how research interests are aligned with other scientists, politicians, and individuals, such as consumers in the food and agriculture industries.
“After decades of working with plants, soil and water, I personally think we can solve the biggest problems by understanding people,” he says. “Agriculture plays an important role in communities around the world. I can’t find a better way to connect with anyone but the food we share. ”
Sat Darshan Khalsa is a scientist at the University of California, Davis. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s California Special Crop Product Block Grants, the Food and Agricultural Research Foundation, the California Food and Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Program, and the California Almond Council.
Meeting: 2020 ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting.
Funding: United States Department of Agriculture California Special Plant Restriction Grants, Food and Agricultural Research Foundation, California Food and Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Program, California Almond Council.