State and federal grants totaling $1.4 million will go toward seeking a solution to diazinon runoff from northern California fruit and nut orchards into the Sacramento River watershed. Two commodity groups, a non-profit organization and private research firm launched four projects in November that will continue through 2004. Demonstration farms and a grower outreach campaign are key elements of the projects targeted to almond, dried plum and peach growers who farm in the Sacramento and Feather River watersheds.

Since the early 1990s, northern California orchard growers have been concerned about pesticide runoff, primarily organophosphate (OPs) insecticides such as diazinon, into the Sacramento River and its tributaries. OP runoff after winter rainstorms has been traced to dormant applications in almond, prune and peach orchards.

“These new projects will assist growers in identifying real-world solutions to the problem,” says Gary Obenauf, director of research for the California Dried Plum Board. Obenauf owns Agricultural Research Consulting, Inc. of Fresno, and is project manager for three of the four grants.

Obenauf's three projects share the goal of developing farm demonstration sites throughout Butte, Glenn, Sutter and Yuba counties for studying and showcasing pest control and orchard management practices to protect surface water.

The Dried Plum Board grant is funded by a U.S. EPA 319h grant. Obenauf and the California Almond Board obtained a grant from California Proposition 13 (Costa-Machado Water Act of 2000) while Agricultural Research Consulting was awarded the CALFED Watershed Program grant for further demonstration farm development in dried plum, almond and cling peach orchards in the region.

Fourth grant

A fourth grant from the CALFED Watershed program will fund the “Water Steward” outreach and education program organized by CURES, the Coalition for Urban/Rural Environmental Stewardship. This three-year CALFED grant will support several components: presentations by CURES at continuing education meetings for growers and crop consultants; publication of orchard best management practice literature; and organizing field days around the demonstration farms.

“The Water Steward program builds on a program that began last year and was funded by the Sacramento River Watershed Program,” says Parry Klassen, Executive Director of CURES, who spent the winter of 2000/01 giving 18 presentations on protecting water quality at grower and crop consultant meetings in northern California. “We want to maintain the visibility of this pesticide stewardship effort as Sacramento Valley orchard growers begin making dormant applications this winter,” says Klassen, who is also a peach grower in Fresno County.

The outreach effort will help promote the demonstration orchards, which will evaluate alternative pest control practices along with orchard modifications such as grass filter strips and orchard cover crops for effectiveness in reducing OP movement from orchards.