Healthy Soils Taking Climate Center Stage in 2016

As we’ve mentioned before, the Governor has proposed $20 million for a Healthy Soils Initiative. Various state programs are increasingly funding healthy soils as well. We recently outlined the Department of Water Resources Proposition 1-funded program, which has recognized improved soil organic matter as a strategy for enhancing the water holding capacity of soils. Similarly, in their most recent granting round, the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Statewide Energy and Efficiency Enhancement Program (SWEEP)—currently funded at $40 million—considers beneficial soil management practices as valuable water savings and greenhouse gas reduction activities.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a flurry of activity around the topic of healthy soils in California.

Capitol Staffers Get Their Hands in the Soil

One of CalCAN’s roles is to educate policymakers on the great potential for climate-friendly agricultural practices on the state’s farms and ranches. What better way to do that than with a farm tour?

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Shawn Harrison of Soil Born Farms talks healthy soil

On December 1st, CalCAN co-organized a day of farm tours with CDFA. We invited legislative staffers and agency representatives to see firsthand the value of healthy soils for both agriculture and the climate.

CDFA Deputy Secretary Jenny Lester-Moffitt began the day with a tour of her family’s organic walnut farm, Dixon Ridge Farms. Professor Louise Jackson of UC Davis and James Komar of USDA-NRCS led an exploration of the carbon-rich soil of Dixon Ridge’s orchards, citing recent research findings and what they mean in practical agronomic terms.

Soil between our fingers, we discussed how farmer-oriented policies and programs can help keep this vital resource healthy and providing the maximum benefit.

Across Sacramento at Soil Born Farms, founder Shawn Harrison guided guests through the operation’s different soil management practices – including on-site composting and some creative use of livestock – and a discussion on the importance of soil health in light of the devastating drought and changing climate.

Conference Season Shines a Light on Soil

Meanwhile, in the past few weeks a variety of annual conferences on environmental and sustainable agriculture issues have shown a greater focus on soils and climate change than ever before.

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Jeanne Merrill of CalCAN leads workshop at EcoFarm

The Ecological Farming Association held its 36th annual EcoFarm Conference in January, offering countless workshops revolving around the relationship between agriculture and climate change, with soil as the pivotal savior. CalCAN led two workshops, “Saving Farmland, Saving the Climate” and “Ready, Set, Go! New Climate and Agriculture Funding”, while other workshop topics included “Regenerative Agriculture’s Role in Climate Change” and “Resilient Agriculture for a Changing Climate”.

EcoFarm is predominately geared towards growers; the increased focus on soils and  climate suggests that farmers are seeing the effects of climate change here and now and wanting the tools (both physical and political) to adapt and mitigate.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) held its annual convening at UC Davis this year. NSAC has been a national leader on climate and agriculture issues in the Farm Bill and federal agriculture policy. Its climate change subcommittee has been particularly active, and its work was called out for recognition at several points during the three-day event. This national coalition is turning to California as a leader in climate change and agriculture policy, and will surely play a role in spreading the successes we see here to other states and around the country.

Green California hosted its 11th annual summit a few weeks ago in Sacramento. This conference, which plays host to a unique compilation of environmental advocates working on all aspects of state policy, has typically not featured agricultural voices in the mix. This year, however, soils took center stage on the “Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy” panel discussion, which featured CalCAN Policy Director Jeanne Merrill. During an afternoon plenary session, farmer Paul Muller of Full Belly Farm spoke about how sustainable farming practices can be both environmentally-beneficial and business-savvy.

“To be economically sound, farms need to be environmentally sound,” he said, citing healthy soil as a key asset to any farm business model.

A Big Year for Soil Health

2015 was the UN’s official ‘International Year of Soils’. Soil health got a big boost from related events and initiatives around the world.

With a likely $20 million ‘Healthy Soils’ allocation on the horizon, and signs of a better understanding of soil management practices within the environmental and policymaker communities, 2016 is shaping up to be a big year for soil health as well.

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