The Public Policy Institute of California has issued a new report investigating potential alternatives to fallowing large swaths of farmland under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Farmers could switch from water-intensive summer crops to winter wheat and other varieties that need less irrigation and benefit from rain. In dry years, those farmers could turn to early harvests of hay or silage to maximize revenues from minimal water.

The problem is California growers have steadily shifted toward higher-value crops to offset steep regulatory costs. But the PPIC researchers found that compensating growers for adopting water-limited crops offers valuable environmental benefits. Keeping fields in production reduces dust, weeds, pests and soil degradation.

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While the idea may sound promising, the report recognizes that much more research is needed on the economic viability of these crops, among several other challenges.

PPIC released the report ahead of a panel discussion with farmers and other experts on Tuesday about managing fallowed lands.