Sustainability

 

What is your carbon footprint?

What chemicals do use in your home and in your yard?  How much detergent and other chemicals do you wash down your drain? How much water do you waste?  Do you sit in drive throughs waiting for food, a fancy coffee or your laundry?  The answer is that we all can do better at home and at work.  Agriculture is no different and we decided a few years back that we can do a better job.

 

The 1990 Farm Bill defined Sustainable Agriculture as "an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term: satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends; make the most use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources, and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and ranchers, and society as a whole."

We here at Gillette Citrus farm with the utmost respect for land stewardship, and sustainable farming is what most farmers have been working towards for many years. 

 

Irrigation

 

One of the most important commodities in the world is water, and for any farming operation, sustainable water usage is paramount. The application and quantity of water used has changed a lot from the “good old days”.  Water application methods and water management tools are enabling us to conserve water and irrigate our orchards more efficiently.

 

The old days of flood irrigating or the use of open furrows are almost gone, however those growers using modern gravity or low pressure techniques and high tech sensing devices, can be very efficient.  While this method is still used on some orchards, most growers have moved to micro sprinklers with small nozzles that only put the water needed in the root zone which reduces wasted water.  Orchards that before were irrigated on a weekly schedule are now irrigated on an as needed basis, which is determined by soil probes and computer analysis.  Orchards that were consistently watered for a set period of time are now watered for varied hours and only as the weather and trees require.  Care must also be used not to use too little water, especially during drought. Aside from reducing fruit size and tree vigor, too little water can cause a buildup of salts in the soil, and lowering of the groundwater level. We also work to control weeds in our orchards as they interfere with the harvest and compete with the citrus trees for water and nutrients. These great strides in water conservation and efficiency also help in the efficient use of energy.  As growers are running shorter irrigation times, so are the electric and diesel pumps required to pump this water.

 

Fertilization

 

Our orchards require some fertilization, as do all plants and trees.  What has changed is how much fertilizers are used.  We apply fertilizer based on irrigation water analysis and yearly leaf tissue analysis. We only apply the amounts of nutrients required for health and productive orchards.  We use some products such as composts or acids that help free up the naturally occurring nutrients in the soil and this also helps reduce the need for additional fertilization.  We apply most of our fertilizer through chemigation techniques that put the fertilizer through the micro sprinklers and into the root zone where the nutrients are needed and do not broadcast the fertilizer over the entire orchard floor. We also spray some nutrients directly on the leaves which also results in less usage and lower cost.

 

Insects

 

Today’s consumers want good looking produce.  To accomplish this some sprays, whether organic or traditional, are required.   We employ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques which use less broad based sprays and instead monitor pest and beneficial insect populations and only require spraying when economic thresholds are reached. 

 

In the past, broad spectrum pesticides were used and these chemicals would kill both the problem insects and also the beneficial insects.  As the population of beneficial insects were depleted, more sprays were required.  In today’s world of IPM, we use compounds made to rid our groves of the specific insects that are damaging the fruit or the trees. These newer materials typically affect a specific insect or type of insect by disrupting a molting or reproductive process. This allows us to use the beneficial insects to help keep the pests in check.  In many of our orchards we are releasing more beneficial insects than we are spraying  (see aphytis melinus, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/NE/aphytis_melinus.html and

Vedalia beetle http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/NE/vedalia_beetle.html).

We are actually spending less time and money on sprays than are Grandfathers did with better looking and healthier citrus.

 

 

Employees

 

As a company farming in the State of California, we are privileged to have a work force equal to no other.  We also are operating in a State whose worker safety laws are strict and non-bending and a state with one of the highest pay levels.  Yes these laws and regulations are expensive, but they have afforded us one of the best work forces in the country.  Our employees have to be constantly trained in worker safety, including equipment training, chemical handling and application training, as well as heat stress awareness classes to protect against heat related injuries.   We are proud to pay a good living wage and watch as our employees live and thrive in our local communities.

  

Healthy and safe citrus is very important to all of us. The consumer who buys fresh California produce is treated to low cost high quality product that cannot be matched.  As fourth generation farmers who live and work in our orchards, we feel good about our part in providing a healthy product grown using sustainable methods for future generations of our families and yours.