Agriculture

March 28, 2014

Farm Beat: Central Valley farmers need to report practices

Farmer coalitions have been monitoring water quality for the past decade as an alternative to direct, and more costly, regulation by the state.

Farmers are filling out a four-page survey that will help assess how well they are keeping pesticides and fertilizers out of waterways.

The East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition has set a May 1 deadline for completion of the surveys, which involve most of the irrigated land east of the San Joaquin River in Stanislaus, Merced and Madera counties.

For farmers, the coalition is a cheaper and simpler way of complying with water-quality rules than direct regulation by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency. It matters as well to Valley residents at large, if it protects them from nitrates and other pollutants in drinking water.

The coalition has spent the past decade monitoring streams for farm-based pollutants and educating growers about sound practices. The effort recently expanded to groundwater. It does not involve dairy farms, which are in a different program.

The survey is the first of its kind and will be done by similar coalitions around the Valley over next year, said Parry Klassen, executive director of the East San Joaquin group.

The coalition will report aggregate information to the water board, without disclosing anything about a specific farm. The survey asks about 2013 practices, so it will not reflect the reduced acreage from this year’s severe drought.

Just what do the survey-takers want to know? Irrigation methods, for one thing, whether flood, drip or other. And what steps are farmers taking to control runoff toward streams, such as capturing water at the end of rows?

The survey asks about several ways to reduce fertilizer use, such as testing leaf samples before application and using cover crops to absorb excess nitrogen. And it covers sound pesticide use, such as having buffer zones around fields and not spraying during rainstorms.

Farmers who do not complete a survey through the coalition will have to deal with the water board directly.

More information is available from the coalition, (209) 225-3914 or www.esjcoalition.org. The Farm Bureaus in the three counties will hold numerous workshops in April for growers who need help with the survey. Details are at (209) 846-6112 in Stanislaus, (209) 723-3001 in Merced and (559) 674-8871 in Madera.

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