Celebrating World Soil Day: Soil Health in Practice

Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2019 by Lauren Lum
Daniella, Jepson Prairie Organics, showing finished compost to legislative staff. Daniella, Jepson Prairie Organics, showing finished compost to legislative staff.

Last week the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and partner agencies hosted events for legislators and staff to learn more about the groundbreaking work farmers and ranchers are doing throughout the state to prevent soil erosion. The events took place as part of the December 5th World Soil Day celebration and awareness campaign by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Last Thursday, in honor of World Soil Day, CalCAN, the California Compost Coalition, and Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) organized a tour for legislative staff to discover the benefits of soil health practices by visiting a compost facility, a ranch and a farm.

The first stop on the tour was the Recology Compost facility, Jepson Prairie Organics. Jepson Prairie is one of the largest food scrap composting facilities in the nation, taking in organics material from the surrounding communities in Solano County. Recology hauls food waste from restaurants, hotels, markets and coffees shops, as well as yard waste from nearby cities, and turns it into compost. Jepson Prairie Organics provides farmers and ranchers with various organic and premium compost mixes to use in their fields. By closing the loop on food waste, Recology is able to divert waste from the landfill, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that farmers and ranchers have access to quality soil amendments.

“Compost helps to improve life within the soil and healthy soil translates to a healthy plant.”

-Greg Pryor, General Manager, Recology

Next we visited Yolo Land and Cattle, where we heard from Scott Stone about his CDFA Heathy Soils Grant to apply compost to 50 acres of rangeland. Scott applied for the grant as a way to improve forage for his cattle, while also working with Carbon Cycle Institute and Point Blue Conservation Science to study how grazing practices and compost application can help sink carbon.

Scott and Casey Stone of Yolo Land and Cattle describe the positive effects of composting on their rangelands

Scott mentioned, “We are stewards of the land and we want it to last for the next generation.”

He uses compost on his rangeland to improve the overall health of the land he manages. With the yearly application of compost, Yolo Land and Cattle is able to increase groundwater recharge and improve their resilience through the hotter and drier months. Compost also helps improve water quality which is important to Scott because of the two creeks flowing through his property. Maintaining the the health of those watersheds is part of Scott’s stewardship of the land.

Lastly, we visited Bullseye Farms, who recently received a Healthy Soils Grant to apply compost and plant cover crops in almond and walnut orchards. Orchard Manager Nick Edsall mentioned that they first used compost and planted cover crops to specifically address a problem in their almond orchard. They were noticing the ground in between the rows of almond trees cracking. The heavy clay soil in the orchard was drying out and almonds were being lost in the cracks. Bullseye Farms decided to spread compost in the middle of the rows and plant a cover crop on top to improve the soil water holding capacity. After a year, soil health returned; the ground wasn’t cracking and they had an improved almond yield.

Orchard Manager Nick Edsall of Bullseye Farms demonstrates the tangible difference of his now healthy soils

Since then, Nick says he’s come to understand soil as the stomach of the plant, “Healthy soil provides nutrients to the plant that help it to bear fruit and keep it from getting diseases. The foundation to healthy plant is the health of the soil.”

Overall, during the tour we learned that there we are many benefits to soil health practices: diverting food waste from landfills, reducing carbon emissions, increasing water storage, improving plant health, increasing yields, and the list goes on.

The CDFA Healthy Soils Grant program incentivizes farmers to implement practices that have soil health benefits and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program provides cost-share grants for 28 different practices. Since the beginning of the program in 2017, compost application has been the most popular practice with 119 grants and cover cropping, a close second, with 90 grants. Check out a full breakdown of the grants here. Last year more funding than ever was allocated to the Healthy Soils program, with $28 million dollars available for farmers in 2020. Yet, even despite this increase, more resources are needed to support scaling up healthy soils practices among California’s 77,000 farms.

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