Farmer Climate Leader: Phil Foster

Photo Courtesy of Phil Foster
Photo Courtesy of Phil Foster

At Pinnacle Organic Farm, Phil and his wife Katherine have been farming organically for 25 years. They produce an average of sixty crops on 300 acres on two ranches near San Juan Bautista and Hollister, CA.

Soil building is a key principle at Pinnacle Organic. Phil uses cover crops and since 1995 he has produced all of the compost the ranches need on-site. These techniques have dramatically increased carbon sequestration on the farm: between 1991 and 2011, soil organic matter doubled on one site and tripled on the other.

In addition to the contribution this makes to slowing down climate change by storing carbon in soil, it also allows for better water retention, therefore improving water conservation which makes the farm more resilient to drought and reducing the energy costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with water pumping. Also, soils rich in organic matter have enhanced soil microbial activity and greater fertility, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers. By using cover crops and compost instead of nitrogen fertilizers, Phil has made a significant contribution to climate protection, because the production of nitrogen fertilizers is very energy-intensive and creates significant GHG emissions. Chemical fertilizer use can also cause water and air pollution.

In addition to building soil carbon, Phil uses a variety of other strategies on his farm that have multiple climate and other environmental benefits. The farm’s drip irrigation system reduces water consumption, which is critical during times of drought, and protects water quality by minimizing runoff. Phil’s approach to pest control avoids the use of synthetic pesticides, which emit GHGs in their production and can cause harm to soils and wildlife. Instead of using pesticides, his approach involves planting hedgerows to attract beneficial insects, constructing owl boxes, spraying compost tea, and more. Numerous hedgerows on the farm not only provide habitat for beneficial insects, but also provide windbreaks and offer habitat for pollinators. Climate change is predicted to bring new pest challenges to California farmers, and farms with more diversity and beneficial insect habitat will be more resistant to new pests.

Photo Courtesy of Phil Foster
Photo Courtesy of Phil Foster

Pinnacle Organic is also a leader in clean energy, producing around 150 kilowatts (kW) of on-farm solar energy and running most farm vehicles on biodiesel. Phil has around 50 kW of solar energy installed as rooftop panels at his San Juan Bautista ranch. At the Hollister ranch, Phil has two 50 kW ground mount systems: one to offset power needed for pumping water, and the other to offset power needed for cold storage. This gives the farm greater energy security, reduces energy costs, and contributes to California’s clean energy goals.

 

Phil is a champion for organic growers in the state. In September 2014, Phil welcomed Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D-Stockton), Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), and Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) on a farm tour organized by CalCAN and CCOF, educating the legislators about the climate benefits of organic production. And in March 2015, Phil joined over 300 growers, researchers, policymakers, technical service providers, and advocates at UC Davis for CalCAN’s 4th California Climate & Agriculture Summit, where he presented his soil management successes during a workshop on Strategies for Building Soil Carbon. We are pleased to count Phil as a partner and a Farmer Climate Leader.

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