Down on the farm:
San Diego agriculture
by Delia Hitz
Sustainable agricultural is making a difference for health and
bsolutely everyone eats, and anything that everyone
does has a huge impact on the economy and environment - both good and bad.
In the back of our minds, we know that our sustenance is grown somewhere.
What you may not realize is that agriculture is a very big part of the business
and environmental picture right here in San Diego.
Agriculture is our county's fourth largest industry,
accounting for 1.6 percent of the gross regional product in 1994. There
are 6,180 farms in the county. Agri-interests used 173,123 acres last year
(more than half for livestock), worth more than $1 billion in revenue. For
every dollar spent directly on farm products, an additional $3.50 of value
is created, making a total impact of more than $4.5 billion.
The largest crop values are generated by nursery products
and flowers ($585 million); fruits and nuts ($268 million); and vegetables
($87 million). The value of the 1994 avocado crop was the largest in San
Diego history ($142 million). The $98 million citrus crop is also a big
contributor. Additionally, tomatoes contribute $20 million and herbs $18
million. Livestock products are also significant: milk at $20 million, eggs
at $58 million, and cattle and calves at $14 million.
Agriculture has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. Food
and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased
chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing
production. These changes have had many positive effects and have reduced
many risks in farming,
However, there have also been significant problems with
the practices these policies and technologies have encouraged. Prominent
among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline
of family farms, continued poor living and working conditions for farm laborers,
and increasing costs of production.
During the past two decades, a new movement for "sustainable
agriculture" has begun to challenge the assumptions that generate these
problems. Sustainable agriculture addresses many environmental and social
concerns, in addition to offering innovative and economically viable opportunities
for growers, laborers, consumers, policy makers and consumers.
Growing practices determine the ultimate sustainability
of a farming enterprise. There are currently two major directions farmers
are taking to enhance sustainable agriculture: Integrated Pest Management,
and the more stringent Organic Farming.
The "non-integrated" approach to pests is simple: dose the crops
regularly with pesticides that kill everything in sight. However, the growers
started to look at the economic and biological considerations of this approach.
One factor, of course, is the cost of the chemicals. Also, the pesticides
eliminate all insect populations - good and bad - while aiming at one target
pest. Over time, the pests can become resistant to the chemicals, requiring
ever more toxic formulations. A serious by-product is the loss of microorganisms
vital to a healthy soil. Further, the pesticides jeopardize the safety of
Mary Mattava, an agronomist with AgriServices in Vista,
notes that more farmers are now using "Integrated Pest Management"
(IPM) methods to control pests. These include irrigation management, the
use of genetically pest-resistant varieties of plants and use of beneficial
insects to control pests - many of the methods traditionally used in organic
She adds that many of the registered pesticide applications
are soaps, oils, and detergents. IPM farmers use synthetic fertilizers,
sometimes in combination with organic fertilizers such as manures, which
add organic matter to the soil. "[IPM farmers] use pesticides only
when economic damage is imminent, and they utilize pesticides that will
have the least environmental impact while controlling pests," she states.
Most of San Diego County's agricultural acreage is in
tree crops (49,262 acres vs. 7,899 acres of vegetable crops.) Over the past
decade, most tree crop farmers have been using IPM to control pest problems.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was formed as a requirement
of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to help develop standards for
the production and processing of agricultural products to be marketed as
"organic." The NOSB defines "Organic Agriculture" as:
... an ecological production management system that promotes
and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.
It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and management practices that
restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and
practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that
integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic
Agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of
residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from the air,
soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to
standards that maintain the integrity of Organic Agriculture products. The
primary goal of Organic Agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity
of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals, and people.
California state law requires any farmer selling agricultural products as
"organic" to register with the county. While there is no inspection
or certification process conducted by the state, if a product sold as "organic"
is determined by a county investigator to be non-organic, the offender is
subject to a $5,000 fine. They also may be subject to up to $10,000 in federal
fines and banned from the federal organic program for five years, according
to the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
Until the federal program is implemented in 1997, certification
remains the responsibility of private, non-profit organizations. In California,
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and Quality Assurance International
(QAI) provide these services to farmers for a fee. Farmers must pass an
annual on-site inspection, during which the farmer must provide information
about the crop management plan, soil and water management, a soil erosion
plan, a plan for building soil fertility, the role of cover crops (which
are used to add organic matter to soil and to attract beneficial insects),
and the use of inputs (fertilizers and manures, and natural pesticides).
Organic crops may not be produced on any land that has had prohibited substances
applied to it within the previous three years.
There are 400 farmers registered as organic in San Diego
County. In addition, there are 28 certified organic growers in the CCOF's
Pacific Southwest chapter (which extends beyond San Diego to include several
farms in neighboring counties). A total of 1,513 acres of farm land are
currently certified by CCOF.
Delia Hitz likes to garden (organically of course) in between working
for Adventure 16 and San Diego Earth Day /Mothers & Others Campaign
for Better Food Choices.