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MAGSA Features: Michael Naito

Michael Naito has long been accustomed to sustainable farming, but now he’s chasing even more smart irrigation tools to increase efficiency.

Michael alternates between drip and flood irrigation and is open to incorporating more precise irrigation strategies when watering his permanent crops with technology’s help. Implementing smart irrigation tools will give him more specific water use data on a particular field and crop type, he said. While most growers generally know what their evapotranspiration rate is, using smart irrigation tools can zero in on precipitation efficiency and water timing. Getting the target right on those things is important, but it differs depending on crop type, he said.

When the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) passed in 2014, California was tasked with forming Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to meet groundwater sustainability by 2040 at the local level. Michael Naito, owner of Naito Farms in Madera is playing an active role in that sustainability effort, and he encourages fellow growers to do the same.

Meters and telemetry are a surefire way to accurately track water use and can help achieve Michael’s goal of efficiency. MAGSA is aggressively seeking funding to help cover the costs to implement these tools on wells in the area. One current grant opportunity is MAGSA’s NRCS EQIP WaterSMART Initative grant. If awarded, landowners could receive funding toward the cost of meters, telemetry, and other water conservation projects. MAGSA was awarded $1 million annually for another four years specifically for MAGSA landowners.

“It really is a growers-first approach,” Michael said. “MAGSA has made it as easy as possible to apply.”

The agency has created an EQIP Grant Application Guide to walk MAGSA growers step by step through the application process. The Guide includes a pathway to success recommending the most seamless application process possible for growers to be considered in the current funding cycle, with a deadline of December 9th to apply. 

Meters and telemetry have helped many growers manage water and crops more effectively by saving water. The biggest benefit is to the grower because they know how much water they’re using at any time for any crop.

Michael said he’s never seen an EQIP grant dedicated to a specific region — meaning, funding will stay within MAGSA boundaries without outside competition. MAGSA growers have a better chance of being funded because the money stays local. MAGSA has supported its growers by hosting EQIP Application Drop-Off Events in Kerman, where applicants can consult with NRCS soil conservationists about their farm operations and prospective projects that can receive funding.

Grant funding will help offset the cost of meters if growers choose to include those as projects on their NRCS EQIP applications. Water meters are placed on wells to monitor water use, and can become costly depending on how many wells a landowner has. The grant funding alleviates that burden.

Applicants who are not selected for funding this year can reapply in future cycles. For those who are not eligible for EQIP funding (read the application guide to learn about eligibility requirements), MAGSA is seeking alternative funding sources, including grants, to financially support growers installing the equipment.

NRCS staff have consulted several growers at the EQIP Application Drop-Off Events, answering personalized questions, and helping fill out forms if necessary. There is one final Drop-Off Event scheduled for Friday, November 18 from 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM at the Kerman Community Center.

“It isn’t hard to fill out the application. You don’t have to go far from home, you fill it out, and you’re done,” Naito said.

MAGSA has laid a strong foundation with landowners and depends on grower engagement in decision-making and outreach. Compliance with SGMA can be challenging, but Michael said MAGSA’s goal is to keep people farming and continue to invest in groundwater sustainability projects that benefit the GSA landowners, residents, and community.

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