The California Nitrogen Assessment

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This guest post is published as part of a series in relation to the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this week.

Increasing concern in California about nitrogen in drinking water, the air we breathe, and climate change has brought a new set of nitrogen monitoring requirements for farmers to implement, and reinvigorated the discussion on how to respond to the impacts of nitrogen’s movement through our environment.

As part of that discussion, the California Nitrogen Assessment: Challenges and Solutions for People, Agriculture, and the Environment comprehensively examines the existing knowledge on nitrogen science, policy, and practice in California. The goal of the assessment is to more effectively link science with action and to produce information that informs both policy and practice. Forty-five contributing authors have collected and synthesized a large body of data to analyze overall patterns and trends in nitrogen imports, exports, internal movement and storage throughout the state, encompassing all nitrogen flows and their impacts on ecosystem services and human wellbeing. The California Nitrogen Assessment includes:

  • Identification of underlying drivers (e.g., regulations, population growth) and direct drivers (e.g., fertilizer use and soil management, fuel combustion) that affect stocks and flows of nitrogen in California agriculture.
  • Calculation of a mass balance to examine how nitrogen moves through California agroecosystems and the state as a whole, including agriculture, sewage, industry and transportation.
  • Evaluation of the state of knowledge about nitrogen’s impacts on ecosystem health and human well-being.
  • A series of scenarios, or “plausible stories about the future,” that provide insights about nitrogen issues that will require attention over the next 20 years.
  • Assessment of a suite of practices and policy options and the potential effects each would have on agriculture, the environment and human health.

The California Nitrogen Assessment underwent a multi-stage review process involving the input of over 60 external scientists and stakeholders from California commodity organizations, farmer associations, non-governmental organizations focused in environment, health, and social justice, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and specialists, and governmental agencies. This approach aims to move beyond academic “business as usual” to more effectively link science with action and to produce information that informs both policy and field-level practice.

Learn more about the book here.

Thomas P. Tomich is W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems, Professor of Community Development and Environmental Science and Policy, and Director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at the University of California, Davis.

Sonja B. Brodt is Academic Coordinator at the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide program hosted by ASI at the University of California, Davis.

Randy A. Dahlgren is Russell Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Sciences and Professor of Land, Air, and Water Resources at the University of California, Davis.

Kate M. Scow is Director of ASI’s Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility and Professor of Land, Air, and Water Resources at the University of California, Davis.