Despite drought conditions lifting for much of the state, some places like Santa Barbara County still face severe water insecurity. In the face of increasingly unpredictable water availability in part due to a changing climate, farmers and ranchers are harnessing state climate investments to conserve water and build on-farm resilience. Below are the stories of two farmers in Santa Barbara County who are implementing California’s Climate Smart Agriculture grants through the State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program (SWEEP) and the Healthy Soils Program.
Funding for both of these critical programs was zeroed out for the current fiscal year (2017-18), and Governor Brown proposed an insufficient amount in his January draft budget for 2018-19 (read more here). The legislature is currently debating their budget proposals for fiscal year 2018-19. A group of 15 Assemblymembers have signed a letter in support of a $400 million investment from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for investments in natural resources climate strategies including funding for both the Healthy Soils Program and SWEEP. Read more background on the proposal here.
Santa Barbara Farmers Leverage Climate Investments for Critical Water Savings
SHARYNE MERRITT FARM
Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County
SWEEP Award Amount: $54,808
“This new system cuts costs for electricity and labor because now I can fine-tune our system from my computer. And on cold nights, not only does it prevent frost damage to the trees by alerting me to turn on the irrigation, but I don’t have to wake up every two hours to check thermometers.”
– Sharyne Merritt
Water availability is one of several climate-related challenges facing California’s avocado industry, along with higher temperatures, new invasive pests and wildfires and mudslides. Making the most of scarce water resources motivated Sharyne Merritt to apply for a SWEEP grant for her avocado orchard near Carpinteria. She purchased solar-powered weather stations to monitor soil moisture, temperature, humidity, evapotranspiration, and wind speed. She can hone irrigation timing and amounts by tracking data online, eliminating over-watering and using less energy to pump water. She also applied mulch in the orchards to cut down on moisture loss due to evaporation.
SANTA BARBARA BLUEBERRIES & RESTORATION OAKS RANCH
Gaviota, Santa Barbara County
Healthy Soils Award Amount: $18,982
“We think we can take a holistic approach to keep more water and carbon in the soil, use less fertilizer and produce better crops. We want to demonstrate this on a working operation to show that this is replicable for people making a living in agriculture.”
– Ed Seaman
Ed Seaman started his farming career in Santa Barbara Blueberries’ roadside farm stand. Since then, he has worked in every aspect of the operation, which he and his wife now own. They secured Healthy Soils funding in partnership with Restoration Oaks Ranch where the blueberry farm is located. Their focus is to build resilience in the face of extreme water insecurity. On the slope above their well, they will plant native shrubs and trees to reduce soil erosion, stabilizing the hillside and encouraging water penetration to recharge the aquifer. At the ranch, compost spread over grazed lands will add soil organic matter, thereby increasing soil carbon storage. Mulching the blueberry fields will increase soil moisture and cut irrigation demand.