A valuable industry assessment program has been streamlined to make it easier for almond growers to enter and update data. Changes to the CASP program – which now stands for the California Almond Stewardship Platform – were announced in December at The Almond Conference 2022 and came after feedback from some growers about the length of time it often took to fill out the online self-assessment.
The CASP program was developed by the Almond Board of California over a decade ago as a method for almond growers to share and compare data about their orchards and farming practices. That aggregated information in the self-assessment, in turn, is often used by handlers and others who market California’s multibillion-dollar annual almond crop to educate and reassure consumers that growers are implementing critical practices in areas such as water usage, air quality, soil health, pollinators and carbon recapture.
The original CASP online self-assessment process included 620 questions, which now have been cut in half after the update.
“It was really time to restructure it a little bit and put it on a diet,” said Tom Devol, Senior Manager of Field Outreach and Education at the Almond Board of California. “It had gotten a bit heavy. It was taking growers a lot of time to do and was a big commitment.”
Growers often spent five or six hours responding to the questions and sometimes had to enter the same information more than once. That is no longer the case, Devol said.
“I just worked with a grower who completed it in an hour and a half, from start to finish,” he said. “Now, we’ve grouped questions, so when you set up an orchard, you never look at those questions again. You put the information in for that orchard – how it was planted, when it was planted, those kinds of questions – and when you reassess in two or three years … you never have to look at that again. Those questions are pre-done.
“And we did the same thing with the farming operations. So the common practices that you use across the whole farming operation, you really only need to address those questions one time and then in future assessments, they’re already completed for you.”
Devol said rationale behind CASP has evolved since it was created.
“When CASP was first envisioned, it was predominantly an education tool,” he explained. “But over time, there’s been a lot more pressure from the market. ‘How are you growing your crops? Are you exhibiting good stewardship? Are you using current practices?’
“The handlers are the ones facing those questions. The growers aren’t selling the crop directly to the buyer; it’s the handler who’s doing it on their behalf. … By completing your grower self-assessment, you’re assisting your handler in marketing your product.”
Devol recommends that growers update their information at least every three years.
“It’s really a continuous improvement program if you think about it. We’re really trying to see where we’ve learned new practices that we’re starting to adopt into the orchard,” he said. “Not many people change their practices every year, but over time, you’re going to pick up a new thing – we’re going to try this, we’re going to change the way we do that.
“Handlers like to see that data done every year because they’re using the aggregate data to help demonstrate to their buyers what their group of growers are doing. So they have a different motivator.”
Devol reassured growers that no individual orchard information ever is shared.
“It’s aggregate data. It’s secure. Nobody can see your data,” he said. “These handlers just get an aggregate group of data about what their growers are doing.”
Growers who have participated in the past and want to update their data, as well as others who want to enroll in the CASP program, should go to www.almondstewardship.org. On the website, growers can set up an account or ask to have their password sent to them, if they’ve forgotten it.
Devol said he and the Field Outreach and Education team are available to answer any questions or provide help. They can be reached at email@example.com.
“We really want you to succeed,” Devol said. “We want it to be simple to use. We don’t want it to be painful for you.”