California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruit, nut and vegetable crops and leads the nation in farm revenues. In 2008, the industry generated $36.3 billion in revenue and $100 billion in associated economic activity. Approximately 25.4 million acres are cultivated in the state, covering about 25% of the total land area. California also leads the country in onion production, growing 35% of the U.S. total. In 2008, over 45,000 acres were planted with onions in Fresno, Imperial, Los Angeles, Kern, Monterey Counties, generating a net income of $267,707,000 (NASS, 2008).
While agriculture is a significant source of revenue for the state's economy, it does come at an environmental cost. From 2003 to 2009, vegetable production (in tons) in California has increased by over 42% while cropland area has increased by only 7.5% (NASS 2010). The expansion of the industry has been accompanied by large increases in water, fertilizer, pesticide and fossil fuel energy use. Each of these inputs raises a number of associated environmental consequences and political issues.
Project Details & Documents
Final Project Proposal, pdf June 1, 2010
Final Project Report, pdf April 15, 2011
This project will collect and analyze data from the three California growing regions in Monterey, Fresno and Imperial Counties as well as an onion bulb production facility located in the state of Indiana. Currently, the three growing regions have different record-keeping practices for things such as water and agrochemical use. We will assess Gills Onions’ current farming practices in terms of the following:
Assess the value of sustainability tracking
- Industry drivers: Many in the business community have already taken first steps to evaluate sustainability in their agricultural supply chain. We summarized recent developments and provided a context for resource reporting.
- Ecconomic drivers: We researched past and projected trends in the price of common farming inputs such as diesel, electricity and water. By tracking resource use year to year, growers may identify areas of improvement and save money.
- Policy Drivers: New policies are in development that may require growers to report their resource use. We summarized upcoming regulations pertinent to Gills growers, such as the Agricultural Waivers under Regional Water Quality Control Boards and the potential for air quality mandates from the California Air Resources Board.
Establish a baseline of the current inputs and waste generated for the 2008-09 crop, including:
- Water use: quantify amount used and source of water, irrigation practices
- Soil enhancements and management practices: fertilizer, tillage practices, crop rotation etc.
- Pest management: pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
- Energy use and efficiency: farm machinery, transportation, cooling and storage
Establish a data tracking framework
- Customized database for data consolidation and analysis
- Suggested improvements on data collection
- Prioritization of future studies
About Gills Onions
Since its inception 25 years ago, Gills Onions has been firmly committed to environmental stewardship and leadership. The company has been recognized for innovation and excellence in sustainability by the Energy Solutions Center, the California Environmental and Economic Leadership Award bestowed by Governor Schwarzenegger, and the Golden State Award for Engineering Excellence from the American Council of Engineering Companies. Gills Onions is passionate in their mission to provide quality and service to their customers. In accordance with these values, Gills Onions completed a zero waste analysis of its processing facilities with the Bren School in 2010. Gills Onions is now looking to the Bren School to examine the environmental impacts of its farming operations. In combination with the Bren School 2010 Zero Waste project, this analysis will ultimately provide Gills Onions with a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impact of their business from the seed to the finished product.
Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops Pilot Project
Farmers are faced with increasing demand from parent companies, consumers, and government agencies to demonstrate the sustainability of their operations. To meet this demand, it is essential that growers, parent companies and policy makers know how to report and evaluate the environmental impacts of their operations. The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) is currently developing metrics to help the industry measure, communicate and track sustainability. The SISC is a consortium of stakeholders, including growers, suppliers, trade associations, environmental and public interest groups, and university researchers. The SISC project does not aim to identify a level of performance that is "sustainable" but to provide ways to record practices and increase sustainability. Our project has been chosen as an official pilot project for SISC. We plan to provide feedback on the value and relevance of these metrics to SISC and compare their reporting to our more advanced analysis. Ultimately, this Bren group project will contribute to the development and advancement of the knowledge needed to promote sustainabile agriculture in California.
Gills Onions has invested in the success of this project by hiring three of our team members during the summer of 2010 to start collecting and analyzing the data for the project. Additional funding for this project has been made possible by the ACE Group, whose goal is to support Bren master's thesis projects that "promote a healthy and sustainable environment, further reforestation projects and the conservation of land, water, and wildlife in the regions of interest to ACE."