PARTNERS

By Vicky Boyd

Beginning with the 2020 crop year, producers throughout San Joaquin County will have to complete an irrigation and nitrogen management plan and record their anticipated applications for the upcoming crop year by spring.

The paperwork is part of new requirements under the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, which was created by the state to address sediment, pesticide and nutrient discharges from irrigated farmland.

Testing of drinking water wells on ag ground within the San Joaquin County and Delta Water Quality Coalition will be added to the requirements for 2021, said coalition executive director Mike Wackman. The East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, which encompasses an area from Modesto south to the Madera-Fresno County lixne, has been required to test domestic wells since 2019.

SJFB membership benefit

To help address members’ concerns about well testing and nitrogen management plan development, SJFB formed a strategic partnership with Anteris Agronomics.

Founded by Kion Kashefi and three partners, Anteris offers services including developing nitrogen management plans, collecting and testing drinking water well samples, ensuring regulatory compliance and offering data management. SJFB members will be able to take advantage of these at a discount as another membership benefit.

Although the company has developed numerous nitrogen management plans for SJFB members, Kashefi said the pending drinking water well testing requirement is generating a lot of questions.

“We want to tell growers it’s not necessarily a bad thing to start asking questions early because there are advantages to starting before they’re required to,” said Kashefi, Anteris managing director and an agronomist. “Whether they choose to use our services or not, we will answer any questions that farmers have – what’s required and what they can do now to help them in the future.”

Under the irrigated lands program, growers who sample drinking water wells for three consecutive years and have nitrate + nitrite as nitrogen results less than 8 milligrams per liter can then sample once every five years.

“I have guys in the San Joaquin County area who are customers that I’ve sampled already,” he said. “By the time the order starts (in 2021), they’ll have three years of data.”

For more information, contact Kashefi at (209) 900-3270 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

All growers must draft nitrogen plan

David Strecker, who farms in the Delta, is one of those members seeking clarification on the well testing requirement. Although he has a domestic well on his ag ground, it has never been used for drinking water.

“We’ve always gotten bottled water since before I was born, and we’ve never drunk the water,” said Strecker, San Joaquin Farm Bureau president. “I’ve been told we still have to test it.”

In the past, only San Joaquin County growers overlying what the state classified as areas with a high vulnerability of groundwater contamination were required to complete a nitrogen management plan, Wackman said.

Beginning with the 2020 crop year, all of the county’s growers will have to draft an irrigation and nitrogen management plan, he said. This is similar to previous nitrogen management plans but now has additional questions about irrigation methods, the amount of water expected to be applied and tools growers plan to use to gauge irrigation efficiency.

As in the past, plans covering high-vulnerability areas must be certified by a certified crop adviser or self-certified by a grower who has attended a special training meeting.

The management plan should be completed by June 15 and kept on file at the farm. It must be available if state water board inspectors visit the operation. Of the roughly 3,000 coalition members, Wackman said the board has inspected between 30 and 50 annually.

Strecker said he wasn’t required to draft a nitrogen plan in the past because he was not in a high-vulnerability area. But he will have to do so beginning this year and planned to attend a meeting in the coming weeks to learn what it entails.

“I’m very green in what I’m facing here in the near future,” he said.

Strecker already has to complete two reports about his annual water use and submit them to the same state agency. He wondered why they couldn’t share information to reduce the reporting burden on agriculture.

“It just seems that there’s always something else, even if it’s the smallest thing individually, being thrown our way,” he said. “Put everything on top of everything else and it becomes a big burden.”

After the 2020 harvest, all growers now will have to complete a nitrogen summary report. It includes the actual amount and forms of nitrogen applied per acre, the crops grown, the acreage of each crop and the per-acre yields.

The completed summary report is submitted by early 2021 to the coalition, which summarizes the collective data in a way that maintains anonymity. The coalition then sends the information to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Time-consuming reports

Mick Canevari, who grows walnuts near Linden, also is an emeritus University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser. As such, he spent his career working with agricultural inputs, including nitrogen, for row crops.

Even so, Canevari said completing the plans summaries is time consuming, and he has just two small orchards and only one crop.

“Multiply that by some of the growers who have different soils and different crops and different locations for the crops, now you’re talking an immense amount of time,” he said. “It’s difficult enough to try to figure out the nitrogen management – now you add in irrigation. We’re going to need a lot of help. We need the education. We’re going to need the different agencies to help us work through this.”

Canevari said he wouldn’t be surprised if someone eventually develops a smartphone application that will do much of the recordkeeping and reporting required under the irrigated lands program. Until then, he said a number of pest control advisers and certified crop advisers are offering services to help growers. In addition, some of the major crop input manufacturers, such as Bayer and Corteva, have developed data-management suites from which growers can draw the needed information.

“In the ag world, I can’t even conceive how we can have the time and understanding to manage the growing regulatory requirements that are put on us,” said Canevari, an SJFB board member. “I think we’re moving down that path where technology will fill that need, and it’s just going to take some time. Growers are the most resilient of business people in terms of coming up with ways to do things.”

Don’t be afraid to seek help

Having worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service for years, Dave Simpson said he thought he was familiar with regulatory paperwork. Then he tried to complete his nitrogen management plan.

“I spent four to six hours looking online trying to research how much nitrogen grapes use,” said Simpson, who grows winegrapes near Lodi. “Then you realize all of this research was done 30 years ago with Thompson seedless in Fresno and was with surface flood irrigation.”

Simpson uses exclusively groundwater and drip irrigation. After that frustrating experience, he sought help from the San Joaquin County and Delta Water Quality Coalition. Sarah Lucchetti guided Simpson so he could complete the plan accurately.

“It really helped me a lot to work with Sarah and find out what the (nitrogen) range is,” said Simpson, an SJFB board member and chairman of the SJFB Water Committee. “I felt good about that and we filled out the forms. You don’t know what the acceptable range is. You want to be honest about it, but it really does help to know. Maybe you’re using the wrong units. You’re making a mistake and wasting hours on it.”

He recommends that other growers who have trouble completing their irrigation and nitrogen management plans contact the coalition at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (209) 851-4204 for additional help.

The coalition also plans to hold training meetings in January and February for growers who want to self-certify their reports.