Farmers Hit With New Regulatory Fee

Source: The Porterville Recorder

Farmers who are already reeling from a lack of water to irrigate their crops this summer are being hit with an annual acreage fee to meet a mandated program to monitor water runoff from irrigated lands.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in September of 2013 adopted new waste discharge requirements to protect ground and surface water from irrigated agricultural discharges for the Tulare Lake Basin area. That led to a plan to monitor groundwater and what impacts irrigation has on that groundwater.

Growers who irrigate agricultural lands for commercial purposes within the Tulare Lake Basin area must comply, but they do have a choice. They can either deal individually and directly with the Water Board, or they can join one of several regional coalitions that have been formed to assist growers in meeting all the requirements.

In the Porterville area, that coalition is the Tule Basin Water Quality Coalition. There is also a coalition in Kern County, as well as the Kaweah Basin Water Quality Coalition to the north. Some growers who have irrigated lands in both, will have to sign up with both, said Tulare County Supervisor and citrus grower Allen Ishida.

The deadline to sign up is rapidly approaching. Growers must sign up with their local coalition by Aug. 4, or they will be stuck dealing directly with the Water Board and having to monitor their groundwater on their own.

“If you received the letter, you better pay it,” stressed Ishida, explaining that monitoring even just a 10-acre plot could cost several thousand dollars a year.

The plan was put into place to improve the quality of groundwater, but Ishida said “They’re regulating without the base science.”

He contends the cause of nitrates in the ground, which is very common in Tulare County, has not been pinned down and that the Water Board is incorrectly blaming farmers. “We’re not the only ones contributing to high nitrates,” said Ishida, agreeing that some nitrates naturally occur, but no one has determined how much is natural.

David DeGroot, who is with 4 Creeks, an engineering firm working for the Tule Basin Coalition, said the only farming operations exempt from this latest order are dairy farmers because they are already under an irrigated management plan.

He said the basin began monitoring surface water in 2003 and now that has been extended to water pumped from the underground.

Farmers got the Water Board to agree to the coalition idea. “Rather than do this individually, maybe we can form a coalition to do the work,” said DeGroot of the idea. “It is a lot more cost-effective.”

The coalition will handle all the monitoring and reporting, which DeGroot said is extensive. Also, it will deal with the Water Board.

The cost for the Tule Basin Coalition is $5 per acre of irrigated land and a $100 participation fee. Both are annual costs. DeGroot and Ishida said the cost for the Kaweah Basin is higher. DeGroot said having to deal with the Water Board is much more expensive.

If a person ignores the order, then there are hefty fines. DeGroot also said if a grower misses the Aug. 4 deadline, they are prohibited from signing up later unless the Water Board grants them permission. Either way, not signing up by Aug. 4 will mean the grower will have to deal with the Water Board, and probably face a fine for not signing up.

According to the state, the Tulare Lake Basin Plan identifies the greatest long-term problem facing the Basin as the increase in salinity in groundwater. Because of the closed nature of the Tulare Lake Basin, there is little subsurface outflow. Thus salts accumulate within the Basin due to the importation and evaporative use of water. A large portion of this increase is due to the intensive use of soil and water resources by irrigated agriculture.

However, the order covers the entire San Joaquin Valley. DeGroot said the total acreage of the Tule Basin is 600,000 acres, of which 350,000 aces are irrigated ag land. He said basically the boundaries are roughly Avenue 196 on the north and the Kern County line on the south, the foothills on the east and the Tulare/Kings county line on the west.

The Water Board said the order requires “the implementation of management practices to achieve compliance with applicable water quality objectives and requiring the prevention of nuisance. The Order requires implementation of a monitoring and reporting program to determine effects of discharges on water quality and the effectiveness of management practices designed to comply with applicable water quality objectives.”

DeGroot said the initial objective is to summarize conditions in a basin. “Once those are approved, then we’ll go out and start monitoring wells,” he said. The plan is to test a well every nine sections.

So far, DeGroot said the sign-ups have gone well, but they know a lot of landowners have held off. As of late last week, he estimated 65 percent of farmers have joined the coalition.

Netafim Rolls Out Portable Drip Irrigation Technology 

New PolyNet Flexible Piping System Provides Cost-Effective, 

Water-Saving Solution For Today’s Farms

 

Addressing the diverse operational and environmental needs of today’s modern growers, Netafim, the pioneers of drip irrigation, have unveiled PolyNet, a high-performance, flexible, lightweight, cost-effective, piping solution for above and below-ground agricultural drip irrigation systems.

Utilizing an advanced, collapsible design, PolyNet is an innovative mainline and sub-mainline portable drip irrigation piping solution from Netafim that enables growers to easily install, recoil and relocate a drip irrigation system for use in an alternate field or different configuration.Netafim-PolyNet-Outlet

Featuring leakage-free lateral connectors and integrated welded outlets, spaced according to customer requirements, PolyNet’s advanced design provides growers with an easy-to-assemble, precise water delivery solution that lowers labor and maintenance costs, increases water savings and improves crop performance potential through enhanced system performance.

Additionally, the cost (per acre) of a PolyNet portable drip irrigation system is substantially less than a below-ground PVC system, giving producers more options when deciding on a system that is the right fit for their operation.

Netafim-PolyNet in field 2“A perfect complement to Netafim’s singular focus of providing reliable, simple and affordable irrigation solutions to help today’s farmers address the challenges of an increasingly complex industry, PolyNet enables farmers to reap the benefits of a drip irrigation system in areas where flexibility is essential,” said Ze’ev Barylka, Director of Marketing for Netafim USA. “Since first pioneering drip irrigation technology nearly 5 decades ago, the debut of PolyNet is a result of Netafim’s continued commitment to providing growers wit leading tools and technology needed to improve yield potential and productivity, while reducing costs, labor and water use.”

Available in a wide range of diameters, PolyNet’s thermostatic collapsible irigation pipe is constructed from rugged premium polyethylene materials that are designed to be versatile and durable enough to withstand the weight of heavy field machinery as well as the most stringent environmental conditions. Requiring no specialized installation tools, PolyNet is equipped with a connector kit and an array of branching and lateral fittings, making it compatible with any Netafim on-surface or subsurface (SDI) irrigation system.

For more information on PolyNet or the company’s industry leading drip irrigation products please visit www.NetafimUSA.com.

Farm Water Use Efficiency & Conservation Explained

Source: California Farm Water Coalition
Governor Brown has asked California’s citizens to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20 percent but what are farmers doing to reduce water use? Many farmers will be fallowing, or not planting, their fields simply because there isn’t enough water to meet their needs.
Crops, such as broccoli, winter lettuce, cantaloupes and garlic will not be grown in the same quantities that we normally see in California. According to Bloomberg News prices for broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes are up by double digits, with tomatoes reaching their highest prices since 2011.

A recent survey of public water agencies that deliver farm water shows that most areas of the state are being affected by the drought. Deliveries of irrigation water are expected to be cut this year by 50 percent or more.

About 2 million acres in the San Joaquin Valley are expected to receive no water this year under existing contracts with the State Department of Water Resources or federal Bureau of Reclamation.

Water Conservation or Water Use Efficiency?

The terms water conservation and water use efficiency are often used interchangeably but to water users they’re different things. Water conservation is generally perceived as an activity that reduces the amount of water used to do something, such as wash a load of clothes or take a shower.

High efficiency washers and low-flow showerheads conserve water that can then be used by another user or at a later time. Water use efficiency is when a water user does things to achieve more using the same (or less) water. An example could be a farmer who upgrades his or her irrigation system so that water is more efficiently used by the crop, producing more saleable, higher quality crop on roughly the same amount of water.

The efficiency is what is gained in crop production.

California farmers depend on reliable water supplies to grow almost half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables and 100 percent of another 14 specialty crops, including almonds, kiwis and clover seeds.

Water Use Efficiency Investments

From 2003 through 2010 San Joaquin Valley farmers invested almost $2.2 billion installing upgraded irrigation systems (drip, micro sprinklers, high-efficiency pumps) on more than 1.8 million acres.

High-efficiency irrigation systems deliver water to the crop in precise amounts on a schedule that meets the plant’s growing cycle. Drip irrigation systems limit the amount of water that is consumed by weeds, reducing the need for herbicides or repeated trips with a tractor and cultivator over the field, which saves fuel and helps reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

For more information, please visit: http://new.farmwater.org/new/learn-more-about-farm-water-use-efficiency-conservation/

California’s ‘Exceptional Drought’

Long Term Solutions, Desperately Needed For California Drought

 

By John Vikupitz, president and CEO of Netafim USA in Fresno, California

 

Aaron Barcellos, a partner with A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Los Banos, is a fourth-generation farmer. His 7,000-acre operation produces crops, including pistachios, pomegranates, asparagus, and tomatoes.

The farm creates jobs for up to 40 people full-time and over 100 at peak season. This year, the operation took an unprecedented move in letting 30 percent of its productive acreage go fallow for lack of water, redirecting available water to permanent crops and to honor tomato contracts.  This fallowing of acreage has resulted in a loss of work for over 30 part-time employees and an estimated loss of $10 million to the local business economy from his operation, alone.

“It’s a ‘batten down the hatches’ year,” notes Mr. Barcellos. “We are trying to survive this year while hoping the severity of this drought will provide momentum for more long term solutions to our water crisis.”

California’s ‘exceptional drought’ – said by University of California (UC) Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn to perhaps be the worst in 500 years – places the state at a critical juncture.

California’s historic low precipitation of 2013 and the below normal 2012 precipitation left most state reservoirs at  between six percent storage in the Southern Sierra to 36 percent in Shasta – levels not been seen since the 1977 severe drought. Snowpack is nearly non-existent.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports nearly half of the U.S. is in some form of drought.

Water is one of life’s greatest conveniences. Turn on the tap and water appears, often at less cost than other household bills, providing the lifeblood for food production, human health, climate, energy and the ecosystem.

We may take water for granted until we’re in danger of losing it as sources dry up. We may not contemplate the support system and cost that brings water to the tap: the extensive pipe conveyance system, treatment plant, chemicals needed for purification, labor and energy costs.

Consequently, every drop saved by one water user benefits all users.

Homeowners may do their part in water conservation by installing low-flow fixtures – often incentivized through government rebate programs – by washing vehicles less or taking shorter showers. The payoff: lower water bills.

The agricultural sector is doing its part, too, using water-saving technology investments that reap returns for Californians, as well as those elsewhere benefitting from its exports. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts and leads the world in almond and pistachio production. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion for their 2012 output.  Exports totaled more than $18 billion.

Tens of thousands of productive acres are being fallowed. The number of jobs, specifically those of farmworkers, will subside as food prices increase. California, the nation’s top dairy producer, is shipping cows out of state due to water uncertainties with no guarantee that alfalfa and other crops cows consume will continue to be available.

It’s critical that people appreciate their food source. California’s regulations ensure safe and reliable food, while California’s highly progressive and efficient farmers enable that food source to be the cheapest in the world Mr. Barcellos points out.

Food safety and quality drive those innovations, as well as economics. Regulations mean the cost to produce food and get it to the store requires farmers to be highly efficient to remain competitive.

Mr. Barcellos farms in five different irrigation districts with various water rights and water supplies. A-Bar Ag Enterprises has converted 5,500 acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation creating a combined water savings and production efficiency of over twenty percent.

“What we do in California with the different irrigation technologies creates significant efficiencies in water application without waste, enabling farmers to increase yields with fewer inputs. With that said, it doesn’t matter what the crop – it still takes water to grow it,” Mr. Barcellos points out.

According to The Center for Irrigation Technology at California State University, Fresno, Agriculture uses 40 percent of all dedicated water, including environmental, municipal and industrial uses in order to meet the needs of the eight million irrigated agricultural acres in California.

When farmers were short on water, they used to purchase it on the open market or pump more ground water. This year, there is no water to buy and wells are starting to run dry, says Mr. Barcellos.

While the federal government has offered temporary food money for farmworkers, “the people in our communities want to work, not receive handouts from a food bank,” Mr. Barcellos says, adding that it’s time to work on long-term solutions to water problems.

California’s water system was developed for 20 million people, with residents and farmers sharing the water supply, with those same resources later shared to meet environmental concerns. That – and the nearly doubled population – has taxed the water system, Mr. Barcellos says.

“We haven’t spent any serious funds to improve California’s infrastructure since the early 1970s to keep pace with population growth and environmental demands,” Mr. Barcellos says. “If the environment needs more water, let’s use sound science and invest in more storage and better conveyance systems for long-term solutions.”

Following Governor Edmund Brown Jr.’s January declaration of a drought emergency, the State Water Project cut water deliveries to all 29 public water agencies to zero for 2014.

Even if there is some short-term relief, mitigation is needed to protect against long-term unpredictable weather patterns.

UC Berkeley’s David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains:  the drought notwithstanding, California’s aged infrastructure calls for increased investments in water recycling, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination with a focus on local water supply development.

The United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), California indicates three priorities: protecting soils made vulnerable by water cutbacks, protecting drought-impacted rangeland, and stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to develop a water conservation plan and seek funding opportunities such as the $30 million available through USDA NRCS California to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers with conservation practices and the $25 million to help pay for conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Irrigation is the final stop on the train that begins with water supply and continues with delivery methods. Water conservation technology – much of which has been proven overseas for decades on arid farmlands – offers a solution right now to apply water more precisely and even improve crop yields and quality.

Our world’s growing population calls for large-scale farming to provide food. For decades, California farmers with reasonable and secure access to water have used water conservation technologies to continue farming and create more water for other purposes, such as the needs of growing urban areas and for environmental remediation, which uses half of California’s water supply.

Farmers like Mr. Barcellos are great stewards of the environment. Many California farmers have successfully adopted this technology to a large degree, using water more efficiently and leaving more in the system for other uses. We need to expand that effort more.