How it started
In 1988, UC farm advisor Lonnie Hendricks and brothers Glenn and Ron Anderson were discussing farming techniques. The Anderson brothers farmed almonds in Merced County. Glenn farmed his almonds organically, while right across the road, Ron farmed conventionally using herbicides and insecticides on his crops. They wondered whether the differences in farming techniques had any effects on yields and quality. Out of that discussion SAREP awarded Hendricks a grant to begin monitoring the two orchards. This project, which later expanded to include eight other orchards in additional studies funded by SAREP, showed that organic almond orchards compare favorably to orchards farmed conventionally. This data inspired the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), in collaboration with SAREP staff, to launch demonstration projects aimed at agricultural chemical use reduction. The projects became known as the Biologically Integrated Orchards Systems (BIOS) program.
Initial success with the BIOS in almonds led the California Legislature to create the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) program to extend the BIOS approach. In September 1994, Assembly Bill 3383 (Bornstein, Brown, and Snyder) was signed into law establishing BIFS. The bill requested the University of California to establish a program that provides extension services, training, and financial incentives for farmers who voluntarily participate in demonstration pilot projects to reduce their use of agricultural chemicals. In 1994, the US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA), California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), and the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources joined forces to support these projects. In 1998, new legislation (AB 1998, Thomson) expanded the goals and extended the program.
The BIFS program funded twelve large-scale, multi-year projects. These projects showed significant reductions in pesticide and fertilizer use, and provided a model for collaborative work among farmers, researchers, extensionists and other agriculture professionals.
What we did
The goal of BIFS was to assist farmers in implementing integrated farming systems that have been proven to reduce degradation of natural resources caused by agricultural inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers. Through on-farm demonstration projects, farmers involved in BIFS projects:
- integrated biological and cultural farming practices into their production systems;
- monitored pests, beneficial insects, water and nitrogen, and used economic thresholds to reduce inputs;
- used soil-building practices such as cover crops to provide nitrogen, increase water infiltration of the soil, and decrease erosion and flooding;
- created on-farm habitat and restored riparian areas to encourage beneficial insect populations and improve habitat for fish, migrant birds and game species;
- optimized the use of animal manure on their forage crops in order to reduce leaching of nitrates into the soil.
From 1995 to 2010, the BIFS program funded twelve projects in eleven different farming systems — apple, citrus, dairy, grape (fresh), lettuce, prune (dried plum), rice, strawberry, tomato & cotton, walnut and winegrape.
The adoption of biologically integrated farming systems generated benefits such as reduced pesticide use, improved soil fertility, decreased erosion and nitrogen leaching, and increased populations of beneficial insects, fishes, migrant birds, and game. Some of the achievements include:
- Nearly eliminated use of chlorpyrifos and diazinon - organophosphate insecticides that have contaminated California's waterways - on BIFS winegrape vineyards in the Central Coast.
- Reduced the use of N, P and K on the BIFS silage corn fields in eight dairies from (averages) 149, 71, 45 lbs/acre before the project to 20, 0 and 0 lbs/acre. This represents an average savings of $57/acre and was accomplished with no reductions in yield. The method involved using measured amounts of dairy manure as fertilizer on the silage corn and was designed to significantly reduce nutrient leaching to groundwater.
- Successfully eliminated wintertime sprays of diazinon on 877 experimental acres farmed by 33 prune growers statewide.
- Reduced the use of organophosphates by 33 percent on BIFS apple orchards through the use of pheromone mating disruption.
- Reduced synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use on walnuts by 57 pounds per acre between 1998 and 2000 on 324 acres with no decline in yields. Growers maintained yields by planting cover crops and lowered their nitrogen inputs by monitoring leaf nitrogen to make judicious use of fertilizers.
- Reduced synthetic nitrogen use on 45 acres of rice without yield losses. Three successive years showed that growers can reduce their nitrogen inputs by 30 lbs/acre without a yield loss when they use the techniques incorporating rice straw into soil and using winter flooding.
- Promoted the use of biologically integrated farming practices among 650 growers in the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. BIFS growers continued to implement BIFS practices after the project ended.
- Facilitated participation by five original BIFS farmers in the West Side BIFS project in innovative regional conservation tillage research and extension projects. A UC Conservation Tillage Workgroup has been formed and Conservation Tillage Research and Farmer Innovation Conferences have been held annually since 2001.
Positive changes in farming practices occurred on a larger scale than reported above. Project results have shown that participating farmers often changed their practices on most of their acreage, not just in their demonstration plots. Additionally, many non-participating growers were exposed to these innovative practices through BIFS projects' outreach efforts.
The BIFS program was part of a larger set of initiatives to which it contributed significantly. Since 1993, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) has continued to administer BIFS-like projects in almonds and walnuts. In 1998, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation began to fund the Pest Management Alliance, a program largely modeled on BIFS. The West Side BIFS project was instrumental in initiating a growing interest in conservation tillage among California growers.