A VICTORIAN almond grower is mulching entire 30-year-old trees to help prepare the land for new plantings.
The chipped-up timber will be incorporated back into the soil in a practice known as whole orchard recycling, which has been adopted in the United States.
Long-time almond grower Neale Bennett said he had been eyeing the emergence of the practice in California, and was keen to test it.
"There is no doubt that we have an obligation to grow as sustainably as possible and while there is always room for improvement," he said.
"We all want sustainable business models and if that means doing things differently, then I think our industry has a great record for embracing change and innovation."
Mr Bennett's farm is at Merebin, Victoria, where about three hectares of 30-year-old trees have been mulched.
At this age, the orchard's productivity begins to decline which is a signal to the grower that it needs to be redeveloped.
Part of the attraction to the idea is the being able to utilise the carbon and physical material to provide an ideal base for new trees.
It replaces the traditional practice of burning the trees once they have been removed from the orchard.
The work is being delivered through Hort Innovation and led by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) the research arm of the Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA).
While whole orchard recycling is used in the US, the aim of the trial is to see if similar environmental gains can be had under Australian growing conditions.
SARDI principal scientist Paul Petrie said almond tree trunks, branches and roots accumulate significant amounts of carbon during their lifecycle, and through this project, his team will be looking at ways to harness that carbon.
"We aim to quantify the impact of whole orchard recycling on the carbon footprint of an Australian almond orchard, including the impact on carbon storage and turnover in the soil, soil greenhouse gas emissions and any impacts on the newly planted trees," he said.
Dr Petrie said researchers will also assess any co-benefits from orchard recycling such as more rapid orchard tree growth, and improved irrigation-use efficiency and soil health.
Almond Board of Australia (ABA) chief executive officer Tim Jackson said the trial will add scientific rigour to the benefits of whole orchard recycling in Australian conditions.
He said it will help with orchard re-development programs and help quantify expectations around carbon farming, changes in soil health, irrigation use efficiency and productivity improvements.
"The recycling results on Californian soils have been widely embraced and are contributing to longer-term aspirations for the industry to become at least carbon neutral," he said.
"Almond growers are all about embracing the most sustainable practices available and this trial is yet another example of that commitment."
Hort Innovation head of research and development (R&D) Byron de Kock said a reduction in farm and production waste and boosting potential water and nutrient use efficiency have been identified as R&D priorities for the Australian almond industry.
"Almonds are one of Australia's most lucrative and popular exports with markets in regions such as Asia, Europe and the Middle East," he said.
"Increasingly, sustainability is at the forefront of horticultural business practice as consumers and investors like to see the sustainability credentials of the products they are buying and investing in, and the almond industry is no exception."
Sign up here to Good Fruit and Vegetables weekly newsletter for all the latest horticulture news each Thursday...
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.