What is in this article?:
- Crop Manage is a web-based tool that helps growers manage water and nitrogen needs in lettuce and broccoli.
- University of California researchers plan to add more crops to the database over time.
- Groundwater contamination from fertilizers is a major concern of growers and regulators.
Cooperation between growers and university researchers led to a new online program to better manage water and nitrogen in lettuce. Mark Mason, left, manager of Huntington Farms in Soledad, and UC Davis Irrigation and Water Resources Advisor Michael Cahn, are in one of Huntington Farms’ fields near Salinas.
Lettuce is king
The reason researchers began with lettuce in the program is simple economics. Valued at nearly $800 million, leaf lettuce is the leading commodity produced in Monterey County. Head lettuce production accounts for another $476 million.
The broccoli part of the program just went live online, Cahn says.
CropManage is in its fourth version thanks to heavy grower participation and feedback.
The program can also be accessed on Internet connected smart phones and tablets. An app has not been developed but Cahn hopes to develop an app with computer specialists at UC Davis.
Water in the Central Coast region comes predominantly from wells. The costs associated with water directly relates to the power required to operate wells to deliver 1,000-1,500 gallons per minute.
According to Cahn, agriculture uses 70-85 percent of the water supplies in the region.
Due to the area’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, salt water intrusion is a major concern to growers and urban residents which share groundwater. The balancing act is to keep fresh water aquifers above sea level.
“Once wells go salty the land can’t be farmed unless growers get an alternative water supply,” Cahn said. “This water is not just agricultural water; it is also drinking water. That is why regulators are coming down hard to protect drinking water supplies.”
Alternative water supplies for growers include treated water from waste water treatment plants, he says. Water from municipal treatment ponds is treated and sometimes mixed with fresh water before application to farm fields.
Funding for CropManage is through a grant from California’s Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP). The program funds and facilitates research to advance the safe use and handling of fertilizer materials.
FREP funding is through a mil assessment of $0.001 per dollar of fertilizer materials sold. California collects about $2 million dollars annually from the assessment.
For Mason and other growers, reduced nitrogen fertilizer use is not only an economic benefit, but it demonstrates to regulators that agriculture uses science-based tools to improve the environment.
To view the Crop-Manage program, access it online at https://ucanr.edu/cropmanage.
Cahn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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