Irrigation Strategies, Pest Management Highlighted on Tour for Regulators
Nearly 40 state, federal and local regulators learned of the challenges and trade-offs this extreme water-short year are forcing upon almond growers such as Newman grower/processor Stewart & Jasper Orchards, host of the Almond Board of California’s Environmental Committee’s 10th annual Stewardship Tour.
Growers Jim and son Jason Jasper, farm manager Ray Henriques and the company’s independent agronomist and PCA Wes Asai explained some of the technologies and strategies Stewart & Jasper uses as part of its sustainable farming operation. “We have adopted sustainability in all facets of our operation,” Jim Jasper said.
In the orchard, for instance, trapping and monitoring determine the timing of pest management sprays, and reduced-risk formulations of pesticides are used, even though they are often more expensive and less efficacious.
“We are making sacrifices going with lower-VOC formulation pesticides but it's better for the environment and we know eventually everything is going that way,” Asai added.
Regulators were particularly interested in Stewart & Jasper’s irrigation strategies, given the severe curtailment to the growers’ surface water deliveries this year and lack of acceptable-quality groundwater.
Jasper acknowledged that the drought is forcing tough decisions upon their typical farming practices. The natural beneficial insectary created by Stewart & Jasper’s usual cover crop in row middles, for instance, has been mowed to preserve every precious drop of water for almond crops this year and to protect yields in future years as well.
Stewart & Jasper will likely apply only half the optimal water this year to its orchard. Henriques explained that Stewart & Jasper will continue to rely on monitoring technologies and ET to schedule irrigations but reduce the amount of water applied with each irrigation in proportion to reduced water supplies.
Regulators attended from several agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation and state and regional air and water boards.
Department of Pesticide Regulation environmental scientist Ann Schaffner said the tour offered a good opportunity to see an almond farming operation firsthand.
”It is really helpful to get a sense of the challenges that the growers face,” Schaffner said. “It’s enlightening to see some of the many innovative things they are doing.”
Stewart & Jasper is a third-generation farming operation founded in 1948, which today has grown to include 2,000 acres of tree crops and a vertically integrated operation that hulls, shells and processes for another 150 growers in the nearby area.