Provides Best of Show Experience
(ABC) — The 47th annual Almond Conference, held this year at Cal Expo in Sacramento, achieved all-time highs for attendance and number of exhibitors. A record 3,913 almond growers and processors, researchers, allied stakeholders and other industry members gathered on Dec. 10-12 for the 2019 conference, joined by 284 exhibitors filling two trade show halls totaling more than 2.7 acres with equipment and technologies.
Organized by the Almond Board of California (ABC), the annual event offers participants a chance to hear from key experts about important research findings driving orchard decisions, meet with a wide variety of businesses and organizations providing products and services to the industry and receive updates on issues impacting the future of the industry.
This year’s conference was held at Cal Expo, a temporary move necessitated by the renovation of the Sacramento Convention Center. Utilizing a combination of existing structures and massive tents and walkways constructed exclusively for the event, the Almond Board created a “pop-up” convention center on the State Fairgrounds.
“From the moment attendees entered Cal Expo, The Almond Conference had a great feeling. There was a great energy,” said Jenny Nicolau, senior manager of Industry Relations and Communications at the Almond Board. “Our goal was to provide a ‘Best of Show’ experience for our industry. What it made it work is that people embraced the change, a great example of the forward-thinking attitude of this industry.
“Beyond reaching a record high for total attendance, what set apart this event from past events was a sense of pride for past accomplishments and a drive to continue to improve for years to come,” said Nicolau.
Facing Down Immediate, Future Challenges
One consistent highlight of each year’s conference is the State of the Industry address, and this year was no exception. Presented by ABC President and CEO Richard Waycott and Board Chair Holly A. King, the address spoke to the hurdles in trade, regulations, and other challenges the industry faced in the last year.
“We certainly encountered a lot of curveballs in 2019,” Waycott said. “We had to adapt to some unusual circumstances but ended the year in a strong position for continued growth.”
Chief among those curveballs was adjusting to the new norm of 60% Chinese tariffs on almonds and figuring out how to navigate uncertainty in the marketplace.
Waycott talked about how, even in the face of a challenging trade situation between the U.S. and China, the industry found markets in which to sell over 2.6 billion pounds – a record shipment year.
He also credited the partnership between the Almond Board, the Almond Alliance and influential industry leaders for ensuring almonds were included in USDA’s Market Facilitation Program, which provides financial relief for U.S. commodities hurt by the Chinese tariffs.
2025 Goals Pave Road to Success
King updated attendees on the industry’s progress toward reaching the Almond Orchard 2025 Goals, which were announced at The Almond Conference in 2018. The goals define the industry’s journey toward continuous improvement, driving the industry to:
- reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by 20%,
- achieve zero waste in our orchards by putting everything we grow to optimal use,
- increase adoption of environmentally friendly pest management tools by 25%, and
- reduce dust during harvest by 50%.
“As an industry, we have been proactive in how we farm and we will continue to be that way,” King said. “We are setting increasingly sustainable objectives, and the goals we set last year have become a guiding light for the industry.”
King and other conference speakers noted that an important tool the industry will use to measure progress against the four goals is the California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP). This program, now in its 10th year, allows industry members to identify areas of improvement across their operations by completing modules that provide information on alternative and best practices. This assessment also includes free decision support tools and is supported by in-orchard workshops hosted by ABC throughout the year, all while helping growers also meet regulatory requirements.
“We can’t achieve our goals without members individually working toward them by participating in CASP,” King said. “The comparative data in CASP allows us to improve our operations as growers by learning and continually improving. CASP and the information it provides are vital to our industry’s future.”
At a separate breakout session titled “Almond Orchard 2025 Goals: The Roadmap to Success,” ABC’s Senior Director of Global Communications Daren Williams said one of the biggest accomplishments in the past year related to the goals was “creating conditions for change to happen in scale.”
“We’ve laid a foundation for the industry to move forward in a big way,” he said.
Mel Machado of Blue Diamond Growers then compared the 2025 Goals to President Kennedy’s challenge to the U.S. space industry in the early 1960s to put a man on the moon.
“These are moon-shot goals,” said Machado, “but when you think about them, they’re not out of reach. They should challenge you, just like Kennedy challenged NASA.”
ABC Director of Agricultural Affairs Josette Lewis provided details on the measurements and metrics for each of the four goals, which were developed in the past year by industry leaders serving on ABC committees and workgroups.
From Almond Achievement Award to Kerri Walsh Jennings, Highlights Abound
At the closing of the State of the Industry address, the Almond Board recognized Rob Kiss of Bayer Crop Science as the 2019 Almond Achievement Award winner. Kiss has more than 30 years of experience in the almond industry, working at Blue Diamond Growers and now Bayer Crop Science. He has also served on various Almond Board committees over the past 15 years. Kiss was visibly surprised when the honor was announced, and his wife and children appeared on stage as he came up to receive the award.
This year’s keynote speakers during the luncheons on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, respectively, were three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings and high-altitude climber John Stenderup. Walsh Jennings shared what it means to work as a team and how she strives to be a good teammate in all aspects of her life, from encouraging her partner Brooke Sweat on the court to supporting her husband and three children. Walsh Jennings, who hopes to qualify for her sixth Olympic team at next year’s Summer Games in Tokyo, will be the new spokesperson for California Almonds in 2020, thanks to the efforts of ABC’s Global Marketing team.
Stenderup, who grew up in the California almond industry and is the son of ABC Vice Chair of the Board Kent Stenderup, is one of only seven Americans to have summited Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, K2 (2nd highest) and Lhotse (4th highest). During his presentation, Stenderup spoke to the mental battle involved in climbing to such high elevations, the toll that effort takes on one’s body and the determination and grit required to reach the summit.
These discussions on teamwork and determination inspired attendees to embrace similar mentalities in their own realm of farming, where working together for a common goal and persevering daily is a necessity for success.
During the two afternoon receptions, 2019 Almond Leadership Participants poured their special project – Almond Brown Ale – from the keg for all attendees to enjoy. In partnership with Temblor Brewing Co. of Bakersfield, Leadership participants Dominique Camou of Bakersfield and Lucas Schmidt of Rocklin spearheaded an effort to create an almond beer, one which used kernels in the fermenting process. When the pair started their project, two ales were developed, one with Monterey variety almonds and the other with Fritz. A blind taste test showed a preference for Fritz and Temblor went to work crafting the ale. Today, the beverage has proven so popular that over 600 gallons have been brewed.
“It has a very nice, sweet taste,” said conference attendee Himmat Kataria of Orland. “I’d definitely buy it.”
With the proceeds from ale sales, Camou and Schmidt have raised more than $16,000 for the California Future Farmers of America (FFA) Foundation. When combining that amount with the funds raised by other participants in the program, the 2019 Almond Leadership class surpassed their goal of $20,000 by raising $55,000 for the California FFA Foundation via a silent auction at the conference as well as a year’s worth of fundraising (including ale sales). These funds will go to support college scholarships for California FFA students who seek to pursue degrees in ag-related fields. FFA members from Madera, Turlock and Woodland Christian high schools also volunteered to work at this year’s conference.
Rounding out the conference was Thursday morning’s General Session featuring a power-packed panel of food and beverage innovators who are charting their own paths in the realm of plant-based foods. The panel included Madeline Haydon of nutpods, a nondairy coffee creamer made with almond and coconut cream; Ashley Thompson of MUSH Foods, an overnight oats product that is soaked in almond or coconut milk; Val Griffith of Skinny Dipped Almonds, almonds covered in a thin layer of chocolate; and Jenny Eu of Three Trees, a producer of organic almond milks. Jennifer Barney of 3rd & Broadway, a food product innovation consulting company, moderated the panel discussion, which focused on what each company looks for in their almond products and how each strives for sustainability in their purchasing practices and more.
Mark Your Calendar for Dec. 8-10, 2020
As the industry looks ahead to a new year and prepares for pollination, the Almond Board is already starting to plan for The Almond Conference 2020, held Dec. 8-10. The renovation of the Sacramento Convention Center is expected to be completed in time for the conference to move back to downtown Sacramento.
“I think the Almond Conference exceeded expectations in all regards – from the venue to the speakers to the record attendance,” said Nicolau. “We even had a number of people tell us they preferred Cal Expo in some ways, especially the easy access and ample parking. The Food Truck Village was also a hit. We listened, and there are things that we learned as a result of being at Cal Expo that we will try to take with us downtown next year.”
Those interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at the 2020 conference should contact Jenny Nicolau at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Source: Almond Board of California