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California, with its hub of Hollywood stars and the glitz that goes with them, is a trendsetter for the nation when it comes to fashion, food, and entertainment. But it’s also often a trendsetter for environmental issues and ­regulations.

The International Fruit Tree Association recently held its annual meeting in Visalia, California. Field tours before and after the two-day annual event took participants to apple, cherry, and stone fruit orchards, and tree fruit nurseries. The itinerary also included a day at the World Ag Expo, a fitting location for the group of international tree fruit growers who take the extra step to educate themselves about global fruit production and attend IFTA meetings and tours that showcase the latest
in tree fruit research and orchard practices.

During their weeklong tour of California agriculture, IFTA members learned that challenges to California tree fruit growers are similar to those facing growers in other states. However, California growers seem to have an added share of regulatory issues to deal with that are absent elsewhere.

Like their counterparts in other ­specialty-crop–producing states, they worry about labor. The comparatively low labor requirement is a key reason that almond acreage in California has taken off like wildfire in the last decade, increasing from 442,000 acres in the late 1990s to 615,000 acres in 2007. Shifts have also occurred in walnuts, pistachios, and high-density plantings of olives as growers removed less profitable permanent crops like apples and wine grapes grown for bulk wine and planted nut crops that can be mechanically ­harvested and require little pruning.

Availability of water and water quality are also at the forefront of worries for California orchardists. Much of the groundwater pumped for irrigation contains salts and must be treated with chemicals to lower pH levels and improve water infiltration. Growers who are part of an irrigation district know that even in a normal water year, they are likely to receive only partial deliveries of their water allotments because of an endangered species called the delta smelt.

But California growers must also comply with far-reaching environmental quality issues.

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, blamed for some of the smog and air pollution that is trapped in the region, are now mandated to implement practices to reduce particulate matter that is 10 microns or smaller and carbon dioxide emissions. They must keep their roads dust-free and retrofit irrigation diesel engines to eliminate emissions, using the best available technology. Chipping machines must be used when orchards are removed, as burning permits are no longer issued for orchard removal. Growers must also contend with stringent water quality regulations that address surface water runoff, impacting applications of pesticides and fertilizers.

In addition, growers in California’s Central Valley, one of the fastest-growing regions in the state with 6.5 million people, must contend with urbanization issues. As the ­population grows, fertile farmland is rapidly being paved over for houses and shopping centers.

Some of the regulatory challenges facing California growers could be heading toward other states, Alex Ott of the California Apple Commission warned those ­attending the IFTA annual meeting.

"What happens in California, unfortunately, is likely heading your way," he said. "What happens in California usually transfers later to other states."