Building Tools and Technical Capacity to Improve Irrigation and Nutrient Management on California's Central Coast

Final Report for EW13-025

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $39,564.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Pamela Krone-Davis
Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

“Building Tools and Technical Capacity to Improve Irrigation and Nutrient Management (INM) on California’s Central Coast” grant work was completed and has achieved the objectives and outcomes of the grant. In Year 1 of the grant, the Expert Advisory Panel met twice to develop and review tools and resources for Irrigation and Nutrient Management and determine the best structure for placing them on the AWQA website. The materials were then uploaded to the AWQA website under the heading of Toolkits ( http://www.awqa.org/toolkits/ ). A gap analysis was performed to determine what additional practice tools would be helpful to growers and professionals on the Central Coast. In Year 2 of the grant, two cross trainings provided education and information exchange on nutrient and irrigation management practices that grant partners have found helpful in field settings. Three months subsequent to the training, all respondents reported they could personally provide technical services in irrigation distribution uniformity evaluations, irrigation scheduling and nutrient management or could provide a competent local technical referral for these services.

Project Objectives:

We have achieved the stated objectives for the two-year project:

  1. Improve access to INM tools by developing an online clearinghouse of INM tools and resources.
  2. Improve consistency of INM services available to growers across the region by developing a standardized set of metrics, measurement tools and operating procedures.
  3. Increase INM Professional technical capacity to serve growers through in-field cross-trainings and distribution of materials.

In Year 1 of the grant, we accomplished the first of these three objectives and made progress in regard to the second objective.   We developed an online clearing house of INM tools on three different topics: irrigation assessment, irrigation scheduling and nutrient management. We compiled guidance documents, brochures, operating procedures, trainings & classes, example reports, tracking & calculation spreadsheets and references for each of these topics. Three webpages were developed for the three topics, with the organization of the information on the page and number of links/documents for each section shown. The bottom of each webpage credits the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

Irrigation Assessments:

Link: http://www.awqa.org/toolkits/irrigation-assessment/

I.   Why Do an Assessment? (9 documents/links)

II. Irrigation Assessment

A.  ITRC Approach (2 documents/links)

B.   SOP Approach (11 documents/links)

III.  Reports for Growers  (7 documents/links)

IV.   Follow Up Consultation (1 documents/links)

V.    Implementation (4 documents/links)

VI.   Verification

VII. References (5 documents/links
VIII. Calculators/Data Sheets (5 documents/links)

Irrigation Scheduling:

Link: http://www.awqa.org/toolkits/irrigation-scheduling/

I.    Overview of Methods (14 documents/links)
II.   All-In-One Systems (12 documents/links)
III.  Determining the Size of your Soil Reservoir

        A. Identify Root Zone Depth (3 documents/links)

        B. Available Water Holding Capacity (4 documents/links)

IV. Determining Manageable Allowable Depletion (1 documents/links)
V.  Soil Moisture Measurement – Determining Actual Depletion

              A.  Soil Moisture Storage (4 documents/links)

              B.   Sensors and Instruments (16 documents/links)

VI.  Evapotranspiration Based Irrigation Management (6 documents/links)
VII. Salt Leaching Requirement (1 documents/links)
VIII. Factoring in Irrigation Efficiency (1 documents/links)
IX.    References (1 documents/links)

Nutrient Management:

Link: http://www.awqa.org/toolkits/nutrient-management/

I.  Guides to Resources  (10 documents/links)
II. On-line Fertilizer Application Calculations & Guidance (3 documents/links)
III. Tracking, Budgeting, Calculating (6 documents/links)
IV. Procedures (Nutrient Guides, Plant Nitrate, Soil Nitrate, Quick Tests)

            A.   Nutrient Management Procedures (3 documents/links)

            B.   Plant Tissue Procedures (2 documents/links)

            C.   Soil Nitrate (7 documents/links)

V. Information (3 documents/links)

In Year 2 of the grant, we conducted two cross training events that allowed for sharing of knowledge and INM practices and technology. Materials compiled in Year 1 were shared with participants. Links to the toolkits on the AWQA website were shared and guidance provided in regard to how to use this site for self-education. Additionally information was shared on numerous topics: nitrogen budgeting, irrigation system design, irrigation scheduling and management, soil web survey basic, soil sampling and nitrate quick strip testing, tissue and soil nutrient analysis, and conservation planning.

Our long-term goal is to support sustainable agriculture and healthy Central Coast waters and watersheds through regionally consistent deployment of irrigation and nutrient management tools and technical assistance that meet grower needs. Accomplishing the grant objectives has taken us a step further on this path.

 

Introduction:

Central Coast growers have demonstrated that reducing water and fertilizer inputs through better management is an effective strategy for lowering production costs and improving product quality (Cahn and Smith, 2010). In the face of rising costs and increasing regulatory scrutiny due to implementation of TMDLs, many landowners are seeking more sustainable and cost-effective irrigation and nutrient management strategies. Regional water quality monitoring data indicate significant nitrate pollution results from agricultural discharges (Worcester, 2011). The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board determined that "more than any other management practice, the wide-scale adoption of proper irrigation and nutrient management practices stands the greatest chance of ameliorating high nutrient concentrations, reducing toxicity, and reducing overdraft and subsequent seawater intrusion" (CCRWQCB, 2008). For these reasons, there is a significant demand for technical assistance for implementation of irrigation and nutrient best management practices (BMPs) in Central Coast watersheds.

The technical capacity to meet grower needs for INM assistance varies acorss the Central Coast Regsion.  In 2011, with funding through the Western SARE PDP, the Project Patners participated in a series of three meetings in which INM methods and resources were presented. We identified action items that if implemented would strengthen the transference of skills across the region and would raise the capacity of technical assistance providers. Partners determined that we needed to develop a cross training program to ensure that we are providing efficient, high quality, and consistent information to growers in the years ahead. Through this 2014 Western SARE PDP grant, we have taken the program to the next level by involving a greater number of partners, improving access to available INM tools, identifying standard operating procedures, and providing key technical training to agricultural professionals.

The tools collected and shared as well as the technical skills developed through this grant will continue to benefit the Central Coast region. Project Partners have a demonstrated history of collaboration through the Agriculture Water Quality Alliance (AWQA), which will contribute to the feasibility and success of implementing these practices with growers through time. Over the past 15 years, AWQA Partners have worked together to implement strategies, which include outreach, technical assistance, research, monitoring, regulatory streamlining, and funding.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Vic Akundzadeh
  • GW Bates
  • Ben Burgoa
  • Dr. Michael Cahn
  • Anne Coates
  • Jillian Cole
  • Julie Fallon
  • Sooni Gillett
  • Erin McCarthy
  • Susan Meyer
  • Kellyx Nelson
  • Kevin Peterson
  • Paul Robins

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

We convened an Expert Advisory Panel to provide guidance and to compile tools on INM from numerous sources including NRCS, Research Universities, UCCE, RCDs, private consultants, Cal Poly and equipment manufacturers. Expert Advisory Panel names, affiliations, and meeting minutes from the two meetings are attached. We also compiled a suite of standard procedures for conducting irrigation system and nutrient management evaluations for the range of crops and irrigation methods used on the Central Coast of California.  The INM Expert Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) defined different levels of complexity of tools and services, based on grower interest and knowledge base. Tools and procedures were posted online on the AWQA toolkits website (http://www.awqa.org/toolkits/), including the name of the tool, the information source, and a brief summary. The tools were organized in a common sense structure to make navigating the extensive material easier.  

Technical personnel were trained on the basic INM tools and suite of standard procedures through hands-on workshops conducted in Salinas (4/02/15) and Santa Maria (5/06/15). Surveys were used to assess gains in understanding and competence in the user of tools shared in the cross trainings. Three months after the cross trainings, a survey was used to assess the capacity of cross training attendees to provide INM outreach, technical service, and ongoing assistance to growers.

Activities and timeline:

Task 1: Develop online Clearinghouse of INM tools and resources

Task 1a (1/1/14-5/15/14): Compile available INM tools and resources

Task 1b. (5/15/14-6/15/14): Post INM tools and resources online for convenient and ready access.

Task 1c (6/1/14-12/15/14): Conduct a gap analysis to assess what tools and instructional materials are missing, what are additional professional training needs and preferred delivery mechanisms.

Task 2: Develop peer-reviewed suite of standard operating procedures (SOP) for Irrigation and Nutrient Management services

Task 2a (11/1/13): Form INM Expert Technical Advisory Committee (EAP), including INM Experts from UCCE, NRCS, Cal Poly, UC Davis, RCDs, private consultants

Task 2b (1/22/14, 8/14/14): Facilitated 2 meetings of the INM Expert Advisory Panel to discuss recent research and practices. We developed a suite of options the Project Partners can provide to meet diverse grower needs for irrigation and nutrient management assistance.

Task 2c (2/1/14-8/15/15): Synthesized and edited the SOP documents

Task 2d (6/15/14, 8/20/15): Posted the SOP documents online. Purchased and distributed demonstration equipment for the use of Project Partners (nitrate test strips, soil probes, soil moisture sensors) as they engage in training with growers.

Task 3: Outreach and Professional Development

Task 3a (10/15/14): Distributed link to online Clearinghouse of INM Tools and Resources to diverse professionals through Project Partners outreach channels.

Task 3b (4/2/15,5/6/15): Hosted 2 in-field technical cross-trainings on basic INM tools and suite of standard operating procedures for technical field staff (including RCDs, NRCS, private consultants, CCAs, large growers, equipment manufacturers).

Task 4 (4/2/14-8/15/15): Program Evaluation: Conducted five surveys on cross training effectiveness and use of tools with growers.

Outreach and Publications

We publicized the toolkits collected for INM on the AWQA website and Project Partners sent links to these toolkits to other professionals and individuals they felt could benefit from the knowledge base represented.

We purchased equipment for use in Outreach Activities of Project Partners incuding soil moisture sensors, nitrate test strips, and soil moisture probes.

Outcomes and impacts:

Central Coast INM Professionals have access to INM tools and standard operating procedures posted on the AWQA website (http://www.awqa.org/toolkits/). The format for these pages was carefully designed by Expert Advisory Panelists to help organize and explain the process involved in the use of the tools related to each topic: irrigation evaluation, irrigation scheduling and nutrient management. The Expert Advisory Panel (EAP) reviewed the suite of standard operating procedures (SOP) for irrigation and nutrient management services developed by the UC Cooperative Extension and discussed differences between this SOP approach and the Cal Poly Irrigation and Training Research Center approach.   Each approach was seen as valid under different circumstances.

We tracked the number of hits to the AWQA website, where the online Clearinghouse is hosted. Website statistics for 2015 visits and hits are shown in Table 1. Although these do not track each page on the website individually, roughly 20% of these hits were related to the INM Clearinghouse tools and information.

Table 1:  AWQA website visitor statistics.  Approximately 20% of visitors view the toolkits.

Month Unique visitors Number of visits Pages Hits
Jan-15 1157 1736 17980 21182
Feb-15 1112 1591 25262 28763
Mar-15 1405 2282 9434 12118
Apr-15 1640 2457 20495 23907
May-15 1271 1952 6473 9232
Jun-15 1167 2417 6570 8742
Jul-15 1044 1817 5986 7917
Aug-15 1087 1882 9810 12716
Sep-15 2962 5963 16478 28684

Cross Training events were attended by diverse INM professionals icluding researchers, private consultants, agency staff and non-profit organizations, all of whom found these sessions helpful for improving their skill base and developing collaborations (Attached Cross Training Attendees). The results of the two cross training events are best understood by reviewing the outcome of the completed surveys by participants for both events. Questionnaires were designed to assess the knowledge base, competence and familiarity of participants with regard to specific tools both prior to and subsequent to the cross training events (attached). Comparison of before and after training survey responses allowed us to evaluate the level of skill base developed. Surveys were approved by SARE prior to their distribution and use. Pre and Post Cross Training Survey Results are attached in the document "Cross Training Survey Results." The total number of participants, completed pre-surveys and completed post-surveys were 22, 17 and 15 respectively for the first Cross Training held in Salinas on 4/2/15. The total number of participants, completed pre-surveys and completed post-surveys were 24, 18 and 18 respectively for the second Cross Training held in Santa Maria on 5/6/15. Some participants at each event did not stay for the entire event and therefore did not complete surveys.

Each survey had 11 questions related to the training content, and participants were asked to rate their level of understanding and confidence in the topic on a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 representing no knowledge and 5 representing the ability to confidently use the tool with growers. The figures in "Cross Training Survey Results" show the consolidated responses to all questions received from Cross Training 1 and Cross Training 2 participants. Prior to Cross Training 1 many attendees reported “no knowledge” (1) or “limited knowledge” (2) in responses to survey questions, whereas by the end of the training, very few of the responses were in “no knowledge” (1) or “limited knowledge” (2) range. Subsequent to the training many more participants were able to report a level 4 or 5 understanding, representing the ability to use the tool personally (4) or to convey its use to growers (5). A similar, though less dramatic shift, was seen in the level of understanding participants acquired of the INM tools presented in Cross Training 2. Because Cross Training 2 was more technical, this smaller shift is not surprising.

Evaluation of Technical Capability 3 months subsequent to the Cross Trainings:

Three months subsequent to the Cross Training events, we assessed the ability of participants to provide INM services to growers based on the education and information sharing that occurred at the cross trainings. This assessment was accomplished through a survey (attached). Seven survey questions were developed to assess participant ability to provide outreach, referrals and/or technical services to growers. One survey questions requested feedback on whether particpants were interested in forming an ongoing periodic regional Professional INM network. The survey was sent to 33 attendees and 13 completed surveys were received. Each of the survey respondents reported they could either personally provide technical services or could provide referral to a competent technical expert for all of three INM services: 1) Distribution Uniformity/ Irrigation Efficiency Evaluation, 2) Irrigation Scheduling, and 3) Nutrient Management. Respondents reported on several specific tools in each of these three areas. They were able to provide distribution uniformity evaluations using one or more of the following methods: UCCE Standard Operating Procedures, Cal Poly Irrigation and Training Research Center (ITRC), or other Best Management Practices. They were able to provide irrigation scheduling technical instruction using one or more of the following methods: CropManage, CIMIS Irrigation Management, Soil Moisture Based Sensor Management, Atmometer, or the Water Balance Method. They were able to provide nutrient management instruction using one or more of the following methods: CropManage, NRCS Nutrient Budget Spreadsheet, or CDFA Fertilizer Guidelines.

We assessed not only the ability of participants to provide in-field services or a referral to these services, but in addition requested feedback on their ability to perform outreach, to provide reports or a user system, and to provide ongoing follow-up with growers. All but one survey respondent could provide outreach to growers on the use of tools. All respondents could provide personal technical skills or suggest a competent referral. Fewer could provide reports or ongoing assistance. In some cases this lack of ability was likely due to time and money constraints faced by their organizaiton rather than to limited technical competence. All respondents could also demonstrate to growers a soil nitrate quick test or recommend someone to provide this assistance. The summary of the results from all respondents is shown in the attached table, "Survey Results from 3 months subsequent to Cross Trainings.  All respondents were interested in forming an ongoing INM network that would meet periodically on either a quarterly or annual basis.

 

         
         
         
         
         
         

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

A vast storehouse of INM resources and tools are compiled on the AWQA website and are available for technical service providers, growers, educators or other interested parties to reference and utilize.

 

All Project Partners increased their access to, knowledge of and ability to convey INM to growers based on the array of INM tools demonstrated through the cross trainings and the INM toolkits posted on the AWQA website.

 

All Project Partners developed increasing confidence in their personal ability to engage in outreach to growers regarding the importance, benefits, and use of INM practices.

 

All cross training participants were exposed to tools that relate to the variety of growers they service. Some technologies require higher levels of organization and technical capacity for the grower organization to effectively utilize, while others are simpler and more basic. Participants are in a position to choose between these options and convey those they feel are most appropriate to a grower’s situation.

 

All Project Partners can either personally provide technical assistance to growers in each of three INM arenas - irrigation evaluation/distribution uniformity, irrigation scheduling and nutrient management; or they can refer growers to competent INM professionals.

 

INM Professionals who attended cross trainings can relate water and nutrient savings to agricultural sustainability and environmental health.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The increased skill base gained through cross trainings and the access to INM resources and tools on the AWQA Toolkit webpage will enable the professional INM technical service providers on the Central Coast to deliver more timely and effective technical assistance to a diversie set of growers on how to efficiently and effectively use water and fertilizer.  Grower use of this knowledge will save them money on the expense of water and fertilizer, as well as improving product quality in the case of some crops.  A more cost effective grower organization will be a more sustainable farming operation.  On a regional scale, if sufficient breadth of practice adoption can be achieved, this would benefit environmental health and agricultural sustainability through reducing water application on irrigated crops and moving the region toward a balanced sustainable use of stored aquifer water, slowing or halting the further progress of salt water intrusion, and preventing or minimizing the infiltration of nitrate into ground water.

Future Recommendations

  1. Participants reported they would like to form an INM professional regional network that meets periodically.
  2. The SOP materials and instructions are easy to follow for most RCD staffers with a general science background, however the gap is in their ability to analyze the results and provide sound technical recommendations to the farmer. Developing that ability would require additional training and experience.
  3. There is an information accessibility gap with regard to the farm managers who oversee or make irrigation and nutrient management decisions on individual farms. This includes the need for information and training that would enable them to make better decisions and/or track the right information to guide those decisions. These field managers need information in a different format (less technical, more step-by-step descriptions, etc.) than the resources that have been compiled under this Western SARE project.
  4. We recommend additional training with a hands-on component, where the professional is involved in the application of the tools. Tools are constantly evolving and it is important to continuously develop capabilities to use new and old tools.

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.