California farmers, dairymen and ranchers must comply with the most demanding regulations in the nation, far more onerous than any of their counterparts in other states.

They must comply with a labyrinth of local, state and federal rules as well as regional differences within the California environmental regulations, and it’s costly. For example, California citrus growers pay as much as $400 more per acre to farm than their counterparts in Texas. That is the case across all agricultural ventures in California.

However, California agriculture has not only survived this dubious distinction but has thrived. California’s state pesticide reporting and monitoring laws started the modern day regulatory era in the mid 1970s.

In 1975, California agriculture gross farm income was $8.5 billion. Now, as the No. 1 agricultural state in the nation, it’s roughly $38 billion and growing.

Pesticides have long been the regulatory lightning rod in the state, but that is changing rapidly, with a focus on water quality and nutrients.

A recent University of California, Davis legislatively mandated study on nitrates in groundwater painted an ominous picture of what the regulatory future might be for the state’s farmers and dairymen.

(For more, see: Groundwater nitrate issue dumped in agriculture’s lap)

It basically said 250,000 people are drinking unsafe, nitrate-tainted pumped groundwater in the Tulare Lake Basin of the Central San Joaquin Valley and the Salinas Valley and that the problem will only get worse unless another web of costly regulations are imposed atop already burdened agriculture.

Some are even saying a bureaucracy like the California Department of Pesticide Regulation should be created to deal with water quality issues. The state’s pesticide laws mandated by the state legislature are the most onerous in the nation, more stringent than the federal EPA. There is a state governmental label and licensing system that covers people who recommend, handle and apply pesticides. Most farmers would be happy to see those laws go away. However, they would also admit that they are good in that they mandate safe and reasonable pesticide use.

“We know what goes on when and where because we have records of everything we do,” said Daniel Burns, a Merced County, Calif. farmer.

The cornerstone of the California pesticide use program is the licensed Pest Control Adviser (PCA). There are 3,000 PCAs in the state who scout for pests and makes control recommendations to farmers.

There is another category of professional California ag consultant that is playing an increasingly larger role in this emerging era of water and nutrient regulations; it is the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA).

CCA is a voluntary certification program for individuals who provide advice to growers, much like the PCA. CCAs are also certified in pest management like PCAs, but their most important expertise emphasizes fertilizer and plant nutrient issues, since they cannot write recommendations without a PCA license.