A leader of California’s citrus industry was sharply critical at a Fresno agribusiness conference of how state regulators and the University of California have handled the issue of nitrates in Central Valley groundwater.

Joel Nelsen, president and CEO of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, also blasted fellow panelists who favor growers keeping “nitrogen budgets” to document how much nitrogen is applied and how much is used to grow a crop.

“The term nitrogen budgets has to be removed from the vocabulary,” Nelsen said. “In the citrus industry, it’s not going to occur.”

Nelsen shared a panel on nitrates at the 31st Annual Agribusiness Management Conference with Parry Klassen, executive director of the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, and Stuart Pettygrove, a UC Cooperative Extension soils specialist.

Leaders of water quality coalitions have insisted that the so-called budgets, individual nitrogen management plans, would not be made available to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. In an interview after the conference, Nelsen said his concern is that state regulators could insist on reviewing those individual documents, but he believes producers should analyze application and use.

During the discussion that drew some 300 growers, bankers, students and others, Klassen and Pettygrove stood by their position that nitrogen management plans are a good way to document use of nutrients.

Pettygrove responded to Nelsen’s suggestion that use of “best management practices” could pose a better alternative.  “The difficulty is that there is not agreement on what so-called best management practices are best in a given environment,” he said.

Pettygrove also said, “I don’t know that it helps a lot to go into defense mode.”

Nelsen characterized a UC report on contamination of drinking water as “showboating” and repackaging of old material that created “an adversarial environment” in which the blame for contamination was laid “at the foot of agriculture.”

He said the state legislature, the governor and the agriculture industry became aware of nitrates in groundwater in 1988, and that agriculture has worked with researchers at various educational institutions to address the problem for nearly a quarter century.

Nelsen said the state has neglected to allocate available money to address the issue outside the agriculture arena, for example to pay for filtration systems in homes.

“We need to step away from onerous mandates,” he said.

A water board meeting on the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program will be held Nov. 30 in Bakersfield.

The agribusiness conference was sponsored by Fresno State’s Center for Agricultural Business, the California Agricultural Technology Institute and Bank of America.

It opened with observations on the nation’s economy, significant changes around the globe, what the nation’s election could bring and agriculture’s outlook. It closed with a look at the changing grocery retail industry.

Speakers included:

Charles Grimes, director of global export trade services for Citibank.

Grimes said it is expected fiscal 2013 exports from the United States will reach a record $143.5 billion. He said Asia is set to overtake Western Europe to become the world’s largest trading region by 2015.

China, already the world’s largest exporter in 2010, will become the world’s largest trading nation by 2015, overtaking the U.S., he said. Africa is expected to double its share of world trade from 3 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2050.

On the matter of trade pacts, Grimes expects more bilateral regional agreements and some movement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.