Biologically integrated farming systems (BIFS)

Our Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) program used on-farm demonstrations and a collaborative model of outreach and extension involving public-private partnerships. 

From 1995 to 2010, the BIFS program funded twelve projects in eleven different farming systems — apple, citrus, dairy, grape (fresh), lettuce, prune (dried plum), rice, strawberry, tomato & cotton, walnut and winegrape.



BIFS projects demonstrated that when participating growers had evidence that yields and profits could be maintained with more environmentally-sound farming practices, they often adopted these practices on most of their acreage.

Furthermore, many non-participating growers were exposed to innovative practices through project outreach activities.


The adoption of biologically integrated farming systems generated benefits such as reduced pesticide use, improved soil fertility, decreased erosion and nitrogen leaching, and increased populations of beneficial insects, fishes, migrant birds, and game. Some of the achievements include:

  • Nearly eliminated use of chlorpyrifos and diazinon - organophosphate insecticides that have contaminated California's waterways - on BIFS winegrape vineyards in the Central Coast.
  • Reduced the use of N, P and K on the BIFS silage corn fields in eight dairies from (averages) 149, 71, 45 lbs/acre before the project to 20, 0 and 0 lbs/acre. This represents an average savings of $57/acre and was accomplished with no reductions in yield. The method involved using measured amounts of dairy manure as fertilizer on the silage corn and was designed to significantly reduce nutrient leaching to groundwater.
  • Successfully eliminated wintertime sprays of diazinon on 877 experimental acres farmed by 33 prune growers statewide.
  • Reduced the use of organophosphates by 33 percent on BIFS apple orchards through the use of pheromone mating disruption.
  • Reduced synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use on walnuts by 57 pounds per acre between 1998 and 2000 on 324 acres with no decline in yields. Growers maintained yields by planting cover crops and lowered their nitrogen inputs by monitoring leaf nitrogen to make judicious use of fertilizers.
  • Reduced synthetic nitrogen use on 45 acres of rice without yield losses. Three successive years showed that growers can reduce their nitrogen inputs by 30 lbs/acre without a yield loss when they use the techniques incorporating rice straw into soil and using winter flooding.
  • Promoted the use of biologically integrated farming practices among 650 growers in the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. BIFS growers continued to implement BIFS practices after the project ended.
  • Facilitated participation by five original BIFS farmers in the West Side BIFS project in innovative regional conservation tillage research and extension projects. A UC Conservation Tillage Workgroup has been formed and Conservation Tillage Research and Farmer Innovation Conferences have been held annually since 2001.

Program Overview

How it started

In 1988, UC farm advisor Lonnie Hendricks and brothers Glenn and Ron Anderson were discussing farming techniques. The Anderson brothers farmed almonds in Merced County. Glenn farmed his almonds organically, while right across the road, Ron farmed conventionally using herbicides and insecticides on his crops. They wondered whether the differences in farming techniques had any effects on yields and quality. Out of that discussion SAREP awarded Hendricks a grant to begin monitoring the two orchards. This project, which later expanded to include eight other orchards in additional studies funded by SAREP, showed that organic almond orchards compare favorably to orchards farmed conventionally. This data inspired the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), in collaboration with SAREP staff, to launch demonstration projects aimed at agricultural chemical use reduction. The projects became known as the Biologically Integrated Orchards Systems (BIOS) program.

Initial success with the BIOS in almonds led the California Legislature to create the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) program to extend the BIOS approach. In September 1994, Assembly Bill 3383 (Bornstein, Brown, and Snyder) was signed into law establishing BIFS. The bill requested the University of California to establish a program that provides extension services, training, and financial incentives for farmers who voluntarily participate in demonstration pilot projects to reduce their use of agricultural chemicals. In 1994, the US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA), California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), and the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources joined forces to support these projects. In 1998, new legislation (AB 1998, Thomson) expanded the goals and extended the program.

The BIFS program funded twelve large-scale, multi-year projects. These projects showed significant reductions in pesticide and fertilizer use, and provided a model for collaborative work among farmers, researchers, extensionists and other agriculture professionals.

What we did

The goal of BIFS was to assist farmers in implementing integrated farming systems that have been proven to reduce degradation of natural resources caused by agricultural inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers. Through on-farm demonstration projects, farmers involved in BIFS projects:

  • integrated biological and cultural farming practices into their production systems;
  • monitored pests, beneficial insects, water and nitrogen, and used economic thresholds to reduce inputs;
  • used soil-building practices such as cover crops to provide nitrogen, increase water infiltration of the soil, and decrease erosion and flooding;
  • created on-farm habitat and restored riparian areas to encourage beneficial insect populations and improve habitat for fish, migrant birds and game species;
  • optimized the use of animal manure on their forage crops in order to reduce leaching of nitrates into the soil.

Positive changes in farming practices occurred on a larger scale than reported above. Project results have shown that participating farmers often changed their practices on most of their acreage, not just in their demonstration plots. Additionally, many non-participating growers were exposed to these innovative practices through BIFS projects' outreach efforts.

The BIFS program was part of a larger set of initiatives to which it contributed significantly. Since 1993, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) has continued to administer BIFS-like projects in almonds and walnuts. In 1998, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation began to fund the Pest Management Alliance, a program largely modeled on BIFS. The West Side BIFS project was instrumental in initiating a growing interest in conservation tillage among California growers.

BIFS Workgroup

The University of California - Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) provides funding and institutional support for workgroups to facilitate collaborative planning and coordination of research and extension on emerging and continuing priority issues. The Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) Workgroup was ratified in 1999 and re-ratified in 2004 and operated until 2010.


The BIFS Workgroup focused on the dynamics of biologically integrated farming systems and how they are manifested in on-farm demonstration projects. Through annual plenary meetings and the BIFS email listserve, workgroup members worked to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Provide a forum to share results and lessons learned from participatory research and demonstration projects focused on encouraging adoption of integrated farming systems, including both the natural and social sciences.
  2. Establish and strengthen networking of UCCE researchers and extensionists with non-ANR cooperators to facilitate potential collaborations and new funding opportunities.
  3. Explore how BIFS and BIFS-like projects can respond to changes in our food system, including state and national policies.


  1. Increased understanding of agroecologically based farming systems by both workgroup members and the agricultural community.
  2. Continued and additional funding for BIFS and BIFS-like projects.
  3. Increased information sharing between social scientists and natural scientists interested in sustainable food and agriculture systems.
  4. Plans for new collaborative initiatives that would assist California farmers in protecting the environment while managing economically viable farming systems.

Who participates

BIFS Workgroup membership included UC ANR staff and faculty, UCCE researchers and extensionists, pest control advisers, representatives from commodity boards, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations such as Community Alliance with Family Farmers and The Nature Conservancy.

Topics addressed

The BIFS workgroup addressed the following key issues relevant to agricultural research and extension:

  • Alternatives to using organophosphate and carbamate pesticides
  • Alternative management of animal wastes to minimize impacts on the environmment
  • Reduction of nitrate leaching
  • Confined animal feeding operations
  • Air quality
  • Nutrient management/organic inputs
  • Nonpoint source pollution and total maximum daily loads
  • Watershed management and threats to anadromous fish

The BIFS Workgroup focused on a whole farm approach to achieve desirable results in these areas. Discussions revolved around such varied topics as biological and cultural control of pests, monitoring practices, reduced reliance on agricultural chemicals, soil building practices, habitat management on-farm to reduce pest problems and conserve natural resources. Workgroup members were also concerned about extension and outreach, so they addressed issues of information dissemination, communication with industry and commodity boards and farmworker safety.

The workgroup also followed and reported on long-term evaluations. Pesticide use trends, grower surveys, economic surveys, project management issues and impact evaluation of BIFS projects were all considerations of the BIFS Workgroup.

BIFS Publications

For information on BIFS projects and other on-farm demonstration projects in California, see the following:

BIFS program reports and conference proceedings

Audio files of keynote presentations


BIFS Project Results


BIFS Partnership Outreach Model

BIFS Buy Outreach Program

BIFS Buy California Initiative Project

In January 2003, SAREP was awarded Buy California Initiative funds by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the USDA to coordinate a project entitled Increasing the Adoption of Biologically Integrated Farming Systems in California Specialty Crops - Farmer-to-Farmer Outreach of Environmentally Sound and Economically Viable Practices. This outreach project built on the successes of SAREP's Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) program by enlisting experienced growers to inform a wider audience of farmers about the practices demonstrated in the prune/dried plum, walnut and dairy BIFS projects. Project outreach objectives were:

  1. Implement a commodity focused farmer-to-farmer outreach initiative that relies on the experience of a core group of farmers in biologically integrated farming system practices.
  2. Create and refine key educational tools and documents that will facilitate the farmer-to-farmer outreach program.
  3. Improve outreach efforts based on results of recent grower surveys.

Outreach Programs

Prune/Dried Plum BIFS Outreach Program

January 2003 - December 2005
Coordinator: Fred Thomas, CERUS Consulting
Adoption Team Growers: Dan Bozzo, David Crane, & Dick Jacobs

At a series of outreach events in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley prune production region, farmer mentors presented to other farmers their experience and success with environmentally sound practices. Mentor farmers were part of a local adoption team that assisted in planning outreach events and reviewing outreach materials. The targeted audiences were farmers who also frequently grew peaches, almonds, and walnuts where cover cropping techniques may have also been applicable.

An outreach event addressing aphid control and pruning options for prune/dried plum growers was described in SAREP's Fall 2004 Sustainable Agriculture newsletter.

Outreach Materials

Walnut BIFS Outreach Program

Coordinators: Joseph Grant, UCCE San Joaquin Co. & Kathy Kelley Anderson, UCCE Stanislaus Co.
Adoption Team: Gary Barton, Mark Cady, Bert Crane, Cindy Lashbrook, Chris Locke, Jeannine Lowrimore, David Miller, & David Taylor

This project targeted walnut growers, pest control advisors, input supplier representatives, and other allied industry professionals in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. Outreach events focused on alternative walnut orchard management practices that were demonstrated in the walnut BIFS project.

A local adoption team of walnut growers and licensed pest control advisors with experience in biologically integrated orchard management identified five under-utilized alternative technologies to be promoted by this project: 1) nitrogen fertilizer use and budgeting, 2) walnut orchard floor management and cover crops, 3) pheromone mating disruption for reducing codling moth damage, 4) brush chipping and shredding to mitigate adverse effects of orchard operations on air quality, and 5) identification, biology, monitoring and control of key secondary pests.

Outreach Materials

Dairy/Forage Crop BIFS Outreach Program

Coordinator: Stuart Pettygrove, Dept. of Land, Air & Water Resources, UC Davis

Project collaborators developed a guide for California dairies in the Central Valley and in the North Coast/Bay Area dairy regions. By highlighting improved manure and forage management practices currently being used by farmers at both North Coast/Bay Area pasture dairies and at confinement-style dairies with large storage ponds in the Central Valley, we expect that this guide will encourage dairy farmers to adopt environmentally sound dairy forage production and manure nutrient management practices.

Further Information on Forage & Manure Management: