Nitrogen Tracking and Reporting

Sacramento, California - A final report of recommendations has been issued by the Nitrogen Tracking and Reporting Task Force. The Task Force was convened by California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross in cooperation with the State Water Resources Control Board to recommend an appropriate nitrogen tracking and reporting system for agriculture in nitrate high-risk areas.

The Task Force carried out a specific recommendation contained in a State Water Resources Control Board report to the Legislature, “Recommendations Addressing Nitrates In Groundwater,” earlier this year. The recommendation called for identifying intended outcomes and expected benefits of such a system in nitrate high-risk areas.

“I wish to thank the Task Force for its commitment and its hard work in evaluating a very complex issue,” said Secretary Ross. “We believe its recommendations will have substantial value in balancing the practical needs for farmers to maintain productivity while protecting groundwater quality and meeting the public’s desire for transparency in farming practices.”

The recommendations address eight key topics including: (1) System Structure; (2) Data Elements; (3) Roles, Responsibilities and Data Accessibility; (4) Benefits of Participation; (5) Verifiability; (6) Societal Benefits of the Recommended System; (7) Limitations and (8) System Phase-in. The complete report, including details for each of these topics, is available here.

The recommendations are intended to address questions about how much nitrogen is being applied, where it is being applied, how much of it is taken up by plants, now much is lost as emissions to groundwater, and what the impact of that is on groundwater quality.

The Task Force is comprised of 28 people representing agriculture; the environmental and environmental justice communities; local, regional and state governments; and both of California’s university systems (the University of California and California State University). Efforts were made to ensure that Central Valley and Central Coast interests were well-represented based on the fact that those regions are at the forefront of addressing nitrates in groundwater.

The efforts of the Task Force, CDFA and the State Water Resources Control Board are part of a multi-pronged effort by the Brown Administration to achieve a balance with nutrient management that remains productive and efficient for the food supply and also protects groundwater.

Nitrogen is an essential plant nutrient for food production and a fundamental building block of human life. Nitrogen fertilizer use in California, among other things, has led to the presence of nitrates in groundwater. Scientific data show that growers are using the same rate of nitrogen usage as 20 years ago to produce more food. Farming techniques have changed markedly in recent years, as new products, methods and irrigation technology have allowed farmers to apply fertilizer more precisely than ever before.

Additional information