PARTNERS

By Vicky Boyd 

Under the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, growers have to complete a nitrogen management plan, akin to a nitrogen budget, by June 15 and keep it on site. 

Photo by Vicky Boyd

 

If you’re tempted to underreport the amount of fertilizer you applied last season as you fill out the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program nitrogen management plan summary report, you may want to think again.

The advice comes from San Joaquin Farm Bureau leaders who have heard from a few growers who don’t want to be shamed for using what they believe is an abnormally high amount of nitrogen.

But by not providing accurate nitrogen-use data, the San Joaquin and Delta Water Quality Coalition may not be able to accurately gauge the threat nitrates from agriculture pose to groundwater quality, said Mike Wackman, coalition executive director.

When growers submit their nitrogen plans, they sign them, acknowledging that the information provided is accurate to the best of their knowledge. Providing information they know is false also may result in disciplinary action from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, he said.

Jim Ferrari, a Linden walnut and cherry grower and SJFB president, concedes that completing the irrigated lands nitrogen-use reports is cumbersome and time-consuming. But he urged growers to continue to provide accurate information. If not, the state could potentially set unrealistically low caps on nitrogen use.

“It’s important for growers to report what they’re actually using so we have standards developed that are more realistic,” Ferrari said. “We better report the accurate rates because if we don’t, it’s just going to work against us.”

SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett agreed. “We just want to encourage people to report their nitrogen use accurately. If, for whatever reason, I’m only reporting half of what I’m applying, we could possibly have to cut nitrogen applications in the future. It’s important to have accurate reporting and accurate numbers.”

How N use is summarized

Under water quality board rules that covered the 2018 growing season, San Joaquin County growers had to submit their nitrogen-use summary reports to the San Joaquin County and Delta Coalition by April 1.

After analyzing annual nitrogen use based on crops and other factors, the coalition sends letters to growers who applied unusually large amounts and are considered outliers.

“We don’t report outliers to the regional board at this point in time,” Wackman said. “That report only goes back to the individual grower. We submit that information to guide the grower on how to look at nitrogen management and how he compares to the rest of the industry in the area. 

“So if they’re using a lot more nitrogen than everyone else, maybe this will encourage them to look at their nitrogen management.” 

When the coalition submits its report to the regional water quality board, it summarizes average nitrogen use for each crop and area and the number of outliers. The information is presented in a way to maintain individual grower anonymity, and all personal information regarding coalition members is maintained at the coalition office, Wackman said.

The only time the coalition will give out individual grower information is for a regional water quality board on-farm inspection.

Regional water board officials will visit an operation to check whether the necessary nitrogen reports have been completed and are on file. During the past few years, Wackman said, the board has conducted about 20 of these on-farm inspections annually within the San Joaquin County and Delta coalition.

This season’s nitrogen management plan, which is akin to a nitrogen budget, must be completed and filed on site by June 15. It is not sent to the coalition.

The 2019 nitrogen management plan summary report, which documents how much actual material was used this year, is completed after the season ends and must be submitted to the coalition by April 1, 2020.

Grower grumblings are only likely to increase as the irrigated lands program requires increased reporting beginning with the 2020 season. The summary reports submitted in early 2021 will have to include the amount of water applied, irrigation application method and the method used to determine how much water to apply. This comes on top of ongoing nitrogen reporting, which includes documenting the amount of nitrogen applied, the nitrogen form and the amount of N removed by the crop. 

In addition, growers with domestic wells on their property that serve other than family members also will have to begin third-party water testing in 2020.

To help growers keep up with the irrigated land’s ever-increasing documentation and to ensure it is accurate, SJFB has begun talks with a private company that offers nitrogen/irrigation reporting services and water well testing. The company also offers remediation should a domestic well be found violating state nitrate levels.

Although discussions are still preliminary, Blodgett said the hope is Farm Bureau could partner with the firm and offer discounted services as a SJFB membership benefit.