California Growers Will Need to Log Nitrogen Use as Part of a Statewide Ag Water Quality Program.
By Vicky Boyd
Beginning this year, California rice producers will have to comply with the requirements of the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, a water quality program implemented as waste discharge requirements. California rice continues with a commodity-specific program based on years of positive water-quality monitoring.
A new requirement is a nitrogen management plan, which places rice producers in a unique position, says Roberta Firoved, manager of industry affairs for the
Sacramento-based California Rice Commission. Evaluation of the groundwater under rice ground shows low vulnerability from nitrogen, so growers do not have to submit a nitrogen management plan. But they must provide it if inspected by the Central Valley
Regional Water Quality Board
“Rice farmers actually have a very good story to tell,” she says.
It also means that rice producers will not have to complete the more in-depth reports that growers in many other watersheds have to.
Under the statewide Irrigated Lands Program, rice farmers completed an online farm evaluation by March 2015, which essentially meant transferring farm field descriptions from mandatory pesticide use reports and recording management practices that benefit water quality.
The CRC plans to launch an online nutrient management tool early this winter, where growers input their previous years’ nitrogen use information.
“It’s like a planning tool — they can reference back to that the following year and see what they did on the field and how it performed,” Firoved says.
After recording the information, growers either store it electronically or print out a hard copy to keep on farm. The commission already has beta tested the online rice-specific nitrogen management plan with a handful of pest control advisers, many of whom also are certified crop advisers.
“They all seemed pleased with it,” Firoved says of the tool. “Once we get the online version going, we’re going to send it back to them and have them give us more feedback.”
Evolution of a rice-specific program
The Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program was adopted by the state in 2003 to reduce agricultural pollutant runoff into surface water. It was later expanded to include groundwater. Until 2003, agriculture had received a discharge waiver from the State Water Board.
Since then, growers who irrigate their land and have runoff from irrigation or rainfall have an option. They can either apply to the Regional Water Quality Control Board for individual discharge permits or they can join a regional water quality coalition. Most choose the latter.
The roughly dozen coalitions statewide collect per-acre fees from members to help fund water quality monitoring, develop best management practices and educational programs, and data collection.
The rice program is similar to other regional coalitions but it is commodity specific and only involves Northern California rice producers. If those same producers have other crops, they would likely join the Sacramento Valley Water Quality Coalition.
Firoved says it made sense to keep the same commodity-based structure that the industry already had in place.
“We already had a long history of monitoring surface water from the beginning of Irrigated Lands, and we took the same approach for groundwater,” she says.
Northern California’s rice producing region also is categorized by the state as having a low vulnerability for groundwater contamination from nutrients, pesticides and other ag chemicals, Firoved says. That is one reason for the reduced reporting requirements.
Producers in watersheds with a high vulnerability for groundwater leaching have to complete reports that summarize how much nitrogen they actually applied, crop yields, an estimate of how much was removed by the crop and comply with other additional reporting requirements.
Those reports also have to be certified by a PCA or CCA or self-certified by the grower after he or she attends a special training session.