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Almond conference in Modesto the place to learn

The Northern San Joaquin Valley is home to lots of nuts.

All those nuts, particularly almonds, continue to provide the fuel that helps power the region's economic engine.

The 2009 harvest is projected at 1.35 billion pounds, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Almond orchards total about 710,000 acres statewide, up 30,000 acres from last year.

Almonds are No. 2 in gross income -- about $800 million annually -- among farm products in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, trailing only milk. California grows 80 percent of the world's almonds. They are the state's No. 1 farm export.

Most of the nuts will go to candy companies, commercial bakers and other large users. Others will be packaged for snacks or home cooking.

So it's no surprise that a two-day gathering for the 37th annual Almond Industry Conference at the Modesto Centre Plaza this week was packed with growers, suppliers, equipment companies and related businesses. The numbers: 1,800 attendees and 114 exhibitors.

Environmental issues to food safety

The conference featured two educational tracks designed to give growers the latest information about a wide range of topics.

One track offered a series of seminars on environmental issues and research, from disease management and irrigation to tree nutrition and evaluating different varieties. The other track examined food safety and regulatory complexities.

Julie Adams, the vice president of the Almond Board of California, which put on the event, said the size and scope of the conference shows how much the industry continues to grow and develop.

"Growers want the latest information on farming, but they also want to understand the global market," she said. "They realize the importance of seeing the big picture."

Merritt Erickson, a grower from Orland, west of Chico, said he attended the conference to see what researchers have learned about food safety and preserving food quality.

"As a farmer, you always want to know what's new in the industry," he said. "I like to see how that applies to what we are doing and if there are any ways We can use that information to improve our operation."

Greg Hallquist, a sales representative for biopesticide company Certis USA, said the conference provided a focused forum for growers and suppliers.

"You don't have to spend a lot of time going through exhibits or displays for other crops," Hallquist said. "Once you get the information you need, you can just move on. It saves time and that's important for all of us."

Bee City Editor David W. Hill can be reached at dhill@modbee.com or 578-2336.

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