guide to Beneficial Management Practices for specialty crops
Our first in a series of guides to assist farmers in achieving sustainability and environmental stewardship, the Guide to Beneficial Management Practices for California Specialty Crops identifies which specific practices can produce what kinds of environmental benefits when applied to the top specialty crops grown in California.
The guide allows growers and others to link directly to the agricultural practices manual of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to learn more about the practices, and to federal and state programs that can provide funding to pay for those practices.
Guide to Beneficial Management Practices for California Specialty Crops
From our beginning, American Farmland Trust has worked not only to preserve the land that sustains food production and the agricultural economy, but also to promote agricultural management practices benefiting the environment that sustains us all. In California we've launched a Sustainable Stewardship Initiative intended to help growers of fruits, vegetables, nuts and other specialty crops overcome economic and other practical obstacles to the adoption of environmentally beneficial agricultural management practices (BMP).
One of these obstacles is the lack of a simple, reliable and uniform method of measuring the environmental benefits of farming practices. This is of concern not just to growers, but to institutional purchasers in the food supply chain who are responding to consumer demand for healthier, more sustainably produced food. The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC), launched by Western Growers Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a project intended to result in a measurement system that can be used on a voluntary basis by growers and purchasers alike. It will not set specific standards or tell farmers how to farm, but many growers will want to experiment with beneficial management practices to improve their environmental performance as measured by SISC. AFT is an active participant in this project, focusing its attention on a metric for agricultural water conservation.
Another obstacle to widespread adoption of beneficial management practices is the risk that they may cause a reduction in crop yields and, hence, farm income. While the concern is legitimate, it turns out that in many cases yields do not suffer and net income may actually increase because some practices, for example, reduced fertilizer applications, are less expensive. We're addressing this issue through a project called the BMP Challenge. It offers growers a no-risk way of trying new farming practices like conservation tillage and nutrient management that reduce air and water pollution, absorb greenhouse gases, and conserve water and energy. If they agree to try BMPs, we offer growers something similar to an insurance policy that will pay for any loss of income due to reduced crop yields. (Growers still bear ordinary market risks due to price swings.) AFT pioneered this program in the Midwest where the main crop is corn, so our first California field trial also involves corn grown for cattle feed by dairy farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. Of the 600 acres enrolled in the program in 2009, none suffered a significant loss in yield when producers used conservation tillage. This year, we intend to expand the program into several California specialty crops.
The Guide to Beneficial Management Practices for California Specialty Crops is intended to complement the SISC and BMP Challenge. It identifies beneficial management practices that specialty crop growers can adopt to improve their performance under the various environmental indicators being designed by SISC. It also offers a menu of practices that could eventually be eligible for risk-free trials under the BMP Challenge. But whether or not growers want to use the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops or to participate in the BMP Challenge, the Guide is still a valuable catalogue of beneficial management practices.
For more information about this Guide and the practices included in it, please contact AFT Environmental Consultant Steven Shaffer at firstname.lastname@example.org
We gratefully acknowledge and thank the California office of NRCS for their cooperation on this project and for their central role over many years in promoting better agricultural stewardship of the environment.
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