Almonds are a beloved nut that serves as a popular snack and ingredient in various culinary creations. Every day, we see new studies extolling the health benefits of almonds and not surprisingly a recipes covering everything from breakfast through dessert. What most people outside of the industry don’t know is that there is much more potential opportunity. The nut we eat (actually a drupe) is surrounded by a protective shell and hull that have potential value as food, fertilizer and feed.
Focusing on the hull, the fibrous outermost protective sheath, we have seen three primary uses worth weighing today.
One of the most practical uses for almond hulls is as animal feed. It is estimated that the use of almond hulls in cattle production, for example, obviates the need to plant 400,000 acres of alfalfa, which requires about 5 acre-feet of water per year to grow.
Ranchers have come to call almond hulls “cattle candy” due to cattle’s preference for the healthy snack. The high fiber content is a rich source of nutrition, and the fiber content aids in digestion and promotes gut health.
The good news is that our cattle ranches are also relatively close to our almond production and distribution. This is clearly a choice that offers an excellent societal benefit if not as high a monetary benefit.
The Almond Board of California recently announced a new study. Mattson, a Fremont, California-based food production company, is exploring several potential options and for good reason. Almond hulls contain one-fifth more fiber than oats with half the carbohydrates. They also are rich in antioxidants and, just as with cattle, can assist with digestion. Some of the considerations include oat alternatives in health bars, coffee additives, and in one study, a replacement for hops. Healthy beer?
Once some of these alternatives are explored, it remains to be seen whether it can be marketed and sold at a premium to its use as animal feed. It would also make sense to consider the potential environmental impact if a source of animal feed was used instead as a human food source.
UC Davis is conducting research into hull-based fertilizers and pesticides. This value might have been magnified over the last several years by the stratospheric increase in the price of synthetic fertilizers, but it is worthy of due consideration as well.
Almond hulls possess valuable nutrient content, making them an ideal candidate for organic fertilizer production. By composting or properly processing the hulls, growers can create nutrient-rich soil amendments. These organic fertilizers can enhance soil fertility, improve water retention capabilities, and promote healthy plant growth. When integrated into the farming system, almond hull-based fertilizers reduce the reliance on synthetic fertilizers, minimizing environmental impact and ensuring sustainable agricultural practices. As a pesticide, early research indicates slower moving vectors for nematodes.
As with all options on the table, it should be considered how much benefit can be obtained for the rancher and society from this use relative to the other uses.
Each of these options, like so much in the farmer’s life, may turn on variability in pricing among various options. The comparable cost of water, fertilizer or other crops could factor in the choice of how to best benefit from hull production. At FarmX, We remain committed to ensuring the highest yield for the lowest factor costs for all of our almond producers and will be monitoring these options on their behalf.