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UC Davis’ Gerry Spinelli Unpacks Water Challenges of California Growers

This week on North American Ag Spotlight, Chrissy Wozniak sits down with Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego County (UC ANR), Gerry Spinelli to talk about the water challenges that California growers face in America's Breadbasket.

Gerardo (Gerry) Spinelli is the Production Horticulture Advisor serving the Nursery and Floriculture industry in San Diego. Gerry conducts applied research, extension, and education to improve viability and profitability of the Nursery and Floriculture industry, while conserving natural resources and complying with regulations. The Nursery and Floriculture industry in San Diego county is the first in California for volume of sales and the second in the US.

Gerry’s primary interests are irrigation management and water quality. These themes are a primary concern for growers given the high cost of water and the pressure from local and state water quality regulators. Nitrogen management is another of the advisor’s interests, given its strong relation to water management and its importance in the environmental impact of horticultural industry. Pests, particularly invasive ones are another pressing issue for the industry. With the large volumes of ornamentals moving in and out from other states (primarily Florida and Hawaii), San Diego is particularly exposed to this threat.

Gerry is also interested in other themes unique to San Diego county, including urban agriculture and horticulture in the rural-urban interface and food deserts in low-income areas. Local growers face issues urban development encroaching into rural areas increasing the cost of real estate and the competition for water. Nursery and Floriculture growers in San Diego county have shown the great ability to quickly react to these forces and adapt production practices to keep the industry profitable. Gerry’s primary concern is to conduct a research and extension program that serves the industry in present and future challenges.

Nursery and ornamental production in San Diego county is intensive with almost daily application of water and nutrients. District irrigation water in San Diego County is expensive and groundwater often presents low quality (high salinity). Certain plants require specific irrigation patterns (for example cacti and succulents) and over-irrigation can lead to root disease. An inefficient irrigation system not only wastes water, but also produces runoff that is one of the main concerns of water quality regulators. These constraints are important challenges for growers and irrigation management and water quality compliance is one of the top issues. Good irrigation technology is important, but correct management is even more. Reliance on trained personnel to operate the irrigation system is one of the top concerns for growers.

Learn more about Gerry Spinelli and his mission at


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