Growing for the Future
This month new Sustainability Intern, Hillary Prince, is taking over the Cultivating Sustainability column. She interviewed two Blue Diamond Growers, Christine Gemperle and Mike Doherty, to find out what regenerative agriculture and sustainability mean to them and how it influences their farming practices.
Regenerative agriculture has become a buzzword for many of our Blue Diamond customers, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Walmart. A subset of sustainability, regenerative agriculture generally focuses more on soil health but the concept is the same — leaving the growing environment the same or better than when you first started working the land so that productivity continues to thrive for future generations.
Christine Gemperle and Mike Doherty know a thing or two about growing almonds. Both run multigenerational family almond farming operations. Recently, I spoke to them about the success of their respective almond orchards and what role regenerative and sustainable practices play in that success. As Christine said “the focus on continued farming” is the concept of regenerative agriculture and the basis for all almond orchard success. To these veteran almond farmers, regenerative almond farming means growing for the future.
There are many practices used in almond farming that support soil and almond tree health. Christine and Mike employ a number of them to address concerns relating to biodiversity, bee and soil health, and water availability. Implementing these practices ultimately produces a more resilient orchard and thriving ecosystem.
Christine, a biologist at heart, loves learning about the interactions between water, insects, plants, and soil at her orchard. This interest led her to utilize cover crops — and she has reaped some unexpected benefits from this implementation. Not only are the cover crops providing nourishment for bees as planned, but Christine is seeing increased water holding capacity in her soils as well as prominent weed management. Through experimentation, she discovered planting mustard early in the season and clover later in the season competes with and reduces weed growth in her orchard. The water savings she sees though the cover crops holding more water in the soil equate to cost savings, reduced stress in trees, and healthier soils with greater fertility.
Mike designs his farm around water management and biodiversity. He is currently addressing groundwater recharge by capturing water runoff in retention basins on his land. Each basin has a designated purpose: water for cattle, wildlife ponds, or groundwater recharge. Not only do these ponds supply water directly for farming use, but their presence increases biodiversity on Mike’s land. This is evident each morning when he sees fresh tracks by the wildlife ponds, geese nesting on the pond island, and droppings outside of the owl boxes. These ponds and surrounding areas serve as habitats for natural pest predators and beneficial insects. Additionally, by planting cover crops and native grasses, Mike creates space for pollinators and other important members of the farm’s ecosystem. When asked why he invested in these sustainable farming practices, his answer was simple, “I am trying to leave the land better for the next generation.”
Both almond growers continue to push the boundaries of almond farming by exploring new technologies and practices. For the last five years, Mike has run his ranch entirely on solar power — from irrigation to his shop to his home. Since installation, 2,251 tons of emissions were avoided in his daily operations and his investment has paid for itself in providing great savings in fuel and electricity use year over year. Christine recently began experimenting with whole orchard recycling and is already seeing the promise of a healthy almond orchard with an increased water holding capacity in the soils. She is looking forward to seeing this translate into decreased irrigation in the future.
As sustainable almond growing proponents, Mike and Christine learned to experiment with regenerative farming practices on their orchards. They are continuously fine-tuning their growing practices to increase almond tree growth, soil health, and biodiversity, and to decrease water and pest issues. Both feel that the way they farm their land greatly impacts the opportunity for future generations to grow almonds. The farming practices that Christine and Mike use are intended to produce thriving almond orchards today while preparing the land to nurture even stronger almond orchards tomorrow.
We are proud of our Blue Diamond Growers members and want to share your sustainability stories! Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like your almond growing practices featured in another article. If you are interested in learning more about sustainable and regenerative farming practices, please contact your Regional Manager for more information on Blue Diamond workshops and seminars.