Empowering Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers to Investigate Nitrogen Management in High-Value Vegetable Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2013: $45,527.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: greens (leafy)
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change

    Proposal abstract:

    With the help of Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) staff and partners, ten socially-disadvantaged (SDA) farmers will improve their capacity to frame, ask and answer questions related to their crop production challenges. Specifically, these farmers will investigate improving nitrogen (N) fertilization management for organic kale and cilantro crops by conducting basic on-farm research.

    In 2011, 23,800 tons of kale were produced in Monterey County on 1,944 acres with farmer sales reaching nearly $18,000,000; 5,310 tons of cilantro were produced on 1,309 acres with farmer sales of over $4,200,000. ALBA farmers will be planting 100 acres of organic kale and cilantro in 2013, yet there is little guidance available for our region regarding N fertilization management practices for these crops, especially for organic farming. Thus, due to the lack of guidance combined with uncertainties regarding organic N fertilit in general, farmers often have to optimize N fertilization through a combination of observation and experience. This challenge exists within the context of an increasing need for accountability of total N applied to crops, particularly due to serious environmental and human health concerns of nitrate contamination of surface and groundwater.

    Ten ‘core’ SDA farmers will be empowered to conduct experiments on N fertilization management, with 80+ SDA farmers and agricultural professionals receiving formal training on performing basic on-farm research and specific techniques for better N management.

    Informational materials will be disseminated to a further 500+ SDA farmers and agricultural professionals. ALBA farmers and other beginning SDA farmers have indicated a need for increased training on understanding soil fertility and, specifically, determining reasonable fertilizer application rates and calculating total N applied to crops. Furthermore, ALBA farmers successfully grow organic kale and cilantro to a commercial standard; however, increasing markets for these crops necessitates higher productivity and careful use of resources to sustain profitability.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Benefits and Impacts to Agriculture:

    i. Locally, it is estimated that cartons produced/acre of kale will be increased by 20% and cilantro by 10% compared to 2012 production of approximately 600 cartons per acre and 800 cartons per acre, respectively. This will happen due to direct technical assistance and training provided through the project and resultant improvements in fertilizer and also irrigation management. Furthermore, SDA farmers involved in project will be better prepared to meet reporting requirements, e.g., Environmental Quality Incentive Program requirements for the Nutrient Management practice or State Water Board. The ‘core’ SDA farmers in the project will be empowered to be active problem solvers, utilizing empirical research techniques to answer questions in their fields or others.

    ii. The knowledge gained by 80+ SDA farmers and agricultural professionals within our tri-county region on N budgeting and the soil nitrate quick test will provide quantifiable basis for N application with an aim to neither over-applying (i.e., wasting inputs or risking environmental contamination) nor under-applying and therefore not achieving optimum production. This knowledge will contribute to increases in farm productivity levels and family farm profits in our area. Also, SDA farmers reached through the project trainings will be better equipped to fully comply with regulatory mandates and therefore be less likely to receive penalties.

    iii. The Adaptive Research Reports will benefit 500+ SDA farmers and agricultural professionals by documenting the experiences of the SDA farmers involved in the project: a) SDA farmers will learn from ‘core’ farmers, including conducting basic research and specific N management techniques, b) agricultural professionals will learn from this unique live-case study on how to engage the SDA farmer community in answering and responding to crop production questions and challenges. Results from the SDA farmers experiment will add to the body of knowledge on N fertilization management for important in our region.

    Producer Adoption/Reaction:

    It is expected that 10 ‘core’ SDA farmers will report: a) improved ability to solve agronomic problems by conducting on-farm research and b) increased use of specific N management techniques; 80 additional SDA farmer and agricultural professionals will report increased knowledge and use of N management concepts, techniques and on-farm research; 500 SDA farmers and agricultural professionals will have increased awareness of N management techniques for crop production and methods for SDA farmer engagement in agricultural problem solving.

    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.