Environmentally friendly almonds can still be profitable

almond trees

Utrecht University researchers showed that nature-inclusive farming practices in almond plantations improve biodiversity and ecosystem services by around 25% when compared to conventional management. In a new study they can now conclude that this type of nature-inspired almond production is profitable external link: nature can be restored while making profits.

There is an urgent need for a holistic change in how woody crops in dry lands are managed. Due to climate change and unsustainable land management in olives, almonds and wine production, the European Mediterranean area where almonds are produced is threatened by desertification.

Nature-inclusive practices show improvements within a year

Researchers from the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development of Utrecht University investigated how nature-inclusive practices such as restoring understory vegetation and enriching soil with compost change the ecosystem on almond plantations. They showed that already within a year this led to improvement in ecosystem services such as plant biodiversity, carbon stock, soil fertility, and soil microorganism communities.

Compost also improved almond production, and is therefore beneficial for both almond farmers and nature. However, the ecological benefits of restoring the understory vegetation cover resulted in reduced almond production. Despite vegetation cover having lower management costs since the land is not tilled, it still provided lower net revenues for almond farmers compared to the more productive conventional tillage management.

Further supporting nature-inclusive almond production

“Price premiums and public subsidies can be used to make nature-inclusive management more profitable and to compensate for loss of earnings compared to conventional management,” say authors Vincent De Leijster, Dr Pita Verweij, Dr René Verburg and Professor Martin Wassen. “Price premiums are currently paid for organic production, and since recently have been paid voluntarily for nature-inclusively produced products. Public subsidies, for example CAP European Greening Payments, could also be used to financially support nature-inclusive practices in almond orchards”. This means that regulations for qualifying for the subsidy need to be adjusted and more compensation than is currently given is needed.

Financially compensating for the delivery of environmental services, such as the storage of carbon or the prevention of erosion, is often proposed as an alternative to compensating for loss of farmer income. This study showed that under the current conditions this does not provide sufficient compensation as the carbon price is too low and Mediterranean soils store relatively little carbon, conclude the authors.

This research contributes to the Future Food hub of Utrecht University’s strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability, as well as to Utrecht University’s Academy of Ecosystem Services.


* = from Utrecht University