At the end of August, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2174, authored by Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Salinas). The bill allows technical assistance projects as an eligible category of funding under the Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Established more than twenty years ago to address nitrate contamination of groundwater from agricultural sources, FREP is funded by an assessment on fertilizers. The program provides competitive grants for research and education — and now technical assistance projects — to promote the efficient use of fertilizers to prevent groundwater contamination.
The bill comes on the heels of recent report to the state legislature that finds that agriculture is responsible for over 95 percent of the nitrate groundwater contamination found in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley. Over 250,000 people in the study areas are without safe drinking water because of nitrate contamination of wells and small water systems. The primary sources of the contamination are synthetic fertilizer and manure applications to cropland. Fertilizer is also a source of nitrous oxide emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.
How growers will grapple with the land stewardship complexities of nitrate leaching comes at a time of declining public investment in technical assistance. The number of county-based UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors is at an all-time low, with many counties closing offices and eliminating positions.
CalCAN supported AB 2174 because it will help move FREP from theory to practice by making available existing funding to translate research findings into on-the-ground assistance for growers to address nutrient management issues specific to their operations. Now UC Cooperative Extension, local Resource Conservation Districts, nonprofits and others can apply for funding for projects to work with growers on developing nutrient management plans that minimize groundwater contamination and greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer use.