We are so pleased to learn that Ward and Rosie Burroughs, long-time farmer advisors to CalCAN, are this year’s recipients of the prestigious California Leopold Conservation Award. They are living examples of the Leopold Award criteria: responsible management of natural resources, economic sustainability, land health, leadership, innovation and outreach.
Ward, Rosie and their children are the owners of Burroughs Family of Farms, a diversified, regenerative farming operation in California’s Central Valley, near Denair. They produce organic almonds, pasture-based dairy, beef, pastured chickens and free-range eggs, and olives. Ward and Rosie’s children are the fourth generation of farmers, and everything the family does assures the long-term economic, environmental and social sustainability of the businesses.
Over the past 18 years, the Burroughs have transitioned all of their operations to meet certified organic standards. Their farms rely on no synthetic inputs of any kind, and they use a regenerative approach that puts an emphasis on nourishing soil biology at the center of their management decisions rather than depleting the soils or relying on chemical fertilizers. Years ago, Ward told me that he considers himself “a grass farmer” rather than a dairy farmer, focused on the health of the soil and forage that is the key to productivity and ecosystem health.
The Burroughs are continually innovating with the integration of a number of practices including:
- Combining cover crops and compost application — They produce 4,000 tons of compost each year from organic waste products such as cow manure, orchard trimmings, paper and cardboard. They also shred their almond tree prunings and leave them on the orchard floor to decompose and add organic matter to feeds soil biology.
- Silvopasture — The Burroughs rotate cattle and chickens through their orchards at specific times of the year to graze down the cover crops (rather than chemical burning or mowing). This adds manure directly to the soil to increase its soil carbon content and minimizes methane emissions associated with manure lagoons. It also increases forage quality and quantity and helps them achieve as much as 80 percent time on pasture annually which is virtually unheard of in the arid climate of the Central Valley.
- No till — Due to the combination of cover crops, compost and animal grazing, the Burroughs no longer till their orchard floors because the soil has such healthy structure. This protects their soil structure and keeps more carbon in the ground.
- Compost tea — They inject a liquid extract of compost into irrigation lines to increase nutrient cycling, root growth, and soil porosity improves water retention and aquifer recharge.
- Drip irrigation — They installed drip irrigation long before it was common practice in orchards, thereby conserving water and energy to pump it.
- Hedgerows – They use a combination of native flowing plants, shrubs and fruit trees throughout their orchards and along field and road borders, providing habitat for native pollinators, beneficial insects, insects and birds and storing carbon.
- Whole almond orchard recycling — When their orchards are replanted, the old trees are chipped, spread, and incorporated back into the soil to promote higher levels of organic matter, increase soil fertility, and increase soil water retention.
- Renewable energy — Eighty percent of the farm’s almond and pasture irrigation (3,173 irrigated acres) is supplied with solar energy from 19 solar tracking sites.
Over time, the integrated combination of practices they have developed has had synergistic benefits to their system and to their community. Their farm sequesters carbon in soil and woody plants, replenishes the groundwater, improves air and water quality, creates a healthy environment for their animals and workers, and increases biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
The leadership demonstrated by Ward and Rosie and their children extends beyond the farm. They have contributed in many ways to the larger community in the Merced area and in the farming community. Among their many volunteer roles, Rosie and Ward as has served as CalCAN farmer advisors since our founding almost 13 years ago. They received a Leadership Award at our sixth Climate and Agriculture Summit in 2019. Our work is more powerful and impactful for their involvement, and we are so pleased to see their work recognized with the Leopold Award.