Cost and Risk Major Obstacles to Wider Specialty Crop Grower Adoption of More Efficient Irrigation and Nutrient Managment Practices, Report Finds


Ed Thompson, California Director & Senior Associate


Davis, Calif., April 25, 2013—To save water, and to reduce water pollution and greenhouse gases, fruit and vegetable growers can change the way they irrigate and fertilize their crops. For years, government and private institutions –including American Farmland Trust (AFT) – have promoted these environmentally beneficial management practices (BMPs). But their use is not as widespread as it could be.

To learn why, AFT polled and held focus groups with specialty crop growers, asking them what would make it more likely for them to try practices such as micro-drip and alternate furrow irrigation and timed application and precise placement of nitrogen fertilizers. The results are detailed in a new AFT report, Encouraging California Specialty Crop Growers to Adopt Environmentally Beneficial Management Practices for Efficient Irrigation and Nutrient Management.

The report finds that the cost of new irrigation and nutrient management BMP is the major obstacle to their adoption, followed by grower concern that they could suffer a reduction in crop yield or quality. The difficulty of accessing trustworthy information on how to implement the practices and to minimize the economic and agronomic risks was another major barrier identified by the focus groups.

Improved productivity, tax credits to offset costs, risk management tools and higher market prices for crops grown using environmentally friendly BMP were among the incentives growers said would encourage them to adopt such practices. However, many California growers were skeptical about or unfamiliar with government cost-share programs that have been a traditional way of funding BMP. The report includes a number of recommendations for encouraging more specialty crop growers to adopt irrigation and nutrient management BMP.

"It is clear," said AFT California Director Edward Thompson, Jr., who supervised the study, "that there needs to be a comprehensive strategy for expanding BMP adoption, ideally one that involves active participation by the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA), USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), UC Cooperative Extension and the major specialty crop trade associations."

The AFT report was conducted by Steve Shaffer of Shaffer Environmental Consulting for Agriculture, who was director of the Office of Agriculture and Environmental Stewardship at CDFA from 2000 to 2008. It was funded by a Specialty Crop Block Grant awarded to AFT by CDFA. Altogether, 78 growers participated in nine locations around California, ranging from Bakersfield to Yuba City. The California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, California Farm Bureau and their local affiliates helped recruit growers to participate.

"Improved environmental stewardship was identified by Ag Vision as one of the critical strategies for sustaining California agriculture, said Craig McNamara, president of the California Board of Food & Agriculture. "This AFT report sheds important new light on how to help farmers realize their desire to care for the environment."

"California farmers have made steady, continuous progress in using water more efficiently, and they're always interested in doing even more," California Farm Bureau Federation Water Resources Director Danny Merkley said. "As this report shows, having access to more technical assistance and cost-sharing alternatives would encourage farmers to make further investments in water-saving technology."

"I appreciate our continued active partnership with AFT and find this summary of the lessons learned from producer surveys and focus groups particularly insightful in describing the complexity of grower decision-making, and speaking to the importance of accessible, well-coordinated technical assistance, " said Califonia NRCS State Conservationist Carlos Suarez.

"This report highlights the critical need for technical assistance among growers," said Karen Buhr, executive director of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. "It clearly makes the case for increased funding for technical assistance providers like Resource Conservation Districts. It also provides priceless insight into the way growers make decisions which will guide us in creating more effective and efficient programs given the changing economic climate. Thanks to AFT for providing such great insight into the important work we are all doing."

Encouraging California Specialty Crop Growers to Adopt Environmentally Beneficial Management Practices for Efficient Irrigation and Nutrient Management is available at


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