California Triples Its Investment in Agricultural Soil Health

Posted on Wednesday, June 5th, 2019 by
The McClelland family at their dairy in Petaluma, CA. Photo copyright David Nevala for Organic Valley.

“Healthier soils sequester carbon from the atmosphere while also growing healthier grass. Our cows are healthy and happy, helping us produce high quality milk,” says Jana McClelland, co-owner of McClelland’s Dairy in Petaluma, California.

Last year, the McClellands were one of the first recipients of grants from the California Healthy Soils Program. Yesterday, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), announced that they are awarding another 217 grants to farmers and ranchers across California, totaling approximately $12.48 million. This almost triples the reach of the program to California producers, and represents the largest investments in the country in building healthy agricultural soil as a climate mitigation strategy.

The Healthy Soils Program funds farmers and ranchers to implement soil management practices that reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases and sequester carbon in soils and woody plants. Grants are given for practices such as cover-crops, reduced tillage, compost or mulch application, and establishment of permanent conservation plantings like hedgerows. Read more about healthy soils as a climate solution. CalCAN has been a leading champion of this program since before its inception in 2017 and we commend CDFA for their commitment to it.

In a press release about the recent Healthy Soils Program award announcement, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross is quoted as follows:

“California leads the nation in supporting innovative climate smart agriculture programs that address on-farm challenges and promote agricultural and environmental sustainability.” Soil health is key to agricultural productivity and food security. Capturing atmospheric carbon and storing it in the soil enhances soil health for climate change and other benefits such as nutrient, water and dust management.”

CDFA allocated the latest round of Healthy Soils Program funding between direct farmer incentives and on-farm demonstration projects. For the Incentives Program, CDFA selected 194 projects in 45 counties totaling $8.7 million. For the Demonstration Program, 23 projects in 16 counties were selected, totaling $3.8 million.

Farmer Climate Leaders: McClelland’s Dairy

Jana McClelland with cows in a pasture at McClelland’s Dairy in Petaluma, CA. Photo copyright David Nevala for Organic Valley.

An early leader on both the Healthy Soils Program and a related CDFA-funded program called the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP), McClelland’s Dairy became a third-generation family farm business when Jana McClelland officially partnered with her parents George and Dora in 2005. Jana began thinking about the farm’s ecological sustainability in high school when she did a Future Farmers of America project to monitor the health of a creek that runs through the property.

In recent years, Jana developed a carbon farm plan with support from the Sonoma Resource Conservation District, the dairy farmer cooperative Organic Valley, and Annie’s, a buyer of their organic milk. The family secured a Healthy Soils grant to begin making the carbon farm plan a reality. The grant funds creek restoration plantings and compost application on pastures.

To read dozens more stories of farmers like the McClellands, visit CalCAN’s farmer climate leaders page.

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