Improving water efficiency in the face of drought
Our California teams continue to grow and source high quality onions, tomatoes, garlic and almonds in the face of drought. This reduced water availability for agriculture has adversely impacted crop yields, raised costs for growers and changed crop competitive dynamics.
Measures taken by the teams include:
- Taking a forward-looking approach to crop sourcing. Olam Spices and Vegetable Ingredients (SVI) worked with growers in regions that had the best outlook for water security and moved quickly to secure the crops they needed to meet customer demand.
- Maximising technology. For better management of orchard water stress the Almond team continually takes aerial imagery surveys to measure stress levels and the biomass density of the orchard. The images captured help pinpoint any tree stress so they can audit and fix the irrigation design and practices for those specific fields.
- Investing in long-term industry research. The almond industry has independently been heavily involved in water efficiency research since 1992, (well before the current cycle of water shortages). Olam is proud to be part of the Almond Board of California industry group. Its research and recommendations have informed our approach to optimising water efficiency across our 3,300 hectares (ha) of almond orchards, plus 81 ha of pistachios and 121 ha of walnuts in California. These have also been adapted into our almond operations in Australia (over 12,000 ha). Olam is committed to its two key recommendations:
- Demand-based irrigation: this tracks farm inputs and characteristics such as soil moisture, tree status water and weather conditions. Almond growers in California (which includes Olam) have improved their water use efficiency by approximately 33% since the 1990s
- Micro-irrigation: this looks at a precise timing and rate of irrigation to eliminate runoff and ensure that the tree is receiving water directly in its root zone. It has been adopted by 70% of almond growers in California including Olam.
- Collaborating with multiple stakeholders: Olam SVI has also been an active voice in industry-wide water conservation movements, including support of the UN CEO Water Mandate and collaboration with local California signatories, NGO working groups, and universities.
Next section: Embracing international standards in Tanzania