In the final installment of our Faces of Farming series, Nutrition Diva talks with almond grower Brian Wahlbrink about almonds, sustainability, and the future of agriculture.
ND: You mention that at this time of year, you're also pruning the trees to get them ready for the next harvest. Is that something that's still done by hand?
BW: Actually, in the last couple years, we have mechanized that as well. It is a single tractor with rotating giant saw blades that drives through the fields and hedges the trees back. What we're trying to do is open up the tree rows to promote sunlight to get down to the orchard floor to help growth on the trees throughout the season.
ND: Wow that must be an amazing machine. I'm sure that's documented in your Instagram feed for people that want to actually see what those machines look like.
BW: Yes, I'll be documenting that piece in the next couple weeks as we get into the off-season posting.
ND: Perfect, perfect timing. So Brian, you're a pretty young guy. Can you see yourself doing this for your entire career?
BW: Absolutely, I absolutely love the industry, I love the daily challenges of being an almond grower, and I also really enjoy the people. I've had the good fortune to get involved with the California Almond Board about 10 years ago, and it’s a very diverse group of people in California. Most of the growers have very interesting stories, when you actually get a chance to get off the field and sit down and have a cup of coffee with them. There are very interesting stories and very good families running these orchards out here. In fact, the almond industry is 90% family owned and there's over 6,000 growers in California.
ND: Where do you see your industry headed in the future? What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities facing agriculture?
BW: The number one focus right now is water and our resources, and we're trying to be good stewards, kind of ahead of policy and legislation in the state. When you have an industry that's so concentrated, like the California almond industry—we grow 80% of the world's almonds—the world is very reliant on California to get the supply into the world. We're looking at increasing crops, which is always going to put some leverage on global trade, but I'm very confident that we're going to be climbing very soon from 2.45 billion, which is about this harvest, to 3 million pounds within the next five years.
ND: That's a lot of almonds.
BW: It sure is. There's a lot of mouths to feed out there.
ND: Brian, I want to thank you so much for spending some time at this busy time of year, and giving us a peek into your world.
BW: Monica, thank you for your time and spending your day featuring California almonds.
To learn more about the health benefits of almonds or sustainability efforts, the Almond Board of California has put together a ton of great resources on their website at almonds.com. And to see what’s going in in the almond groves, check out Brian’s Instagram feed.
If you missed the earlier installments of the Faces of Farming series, the Nutrition Diva podcast is are available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or your favorite podcast platform. And you’ll find me at NutritionOverEasy.com or on Facebook and Twitter.