Release: Progress Report on the California Healthy Soils Program Demonstration Projects

Posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2022 by Anna Larson
cover crops

New Report on Healthy Soils Program

Demonstration Projects

CalCAN is excited to release a progress report on the first four years of the Healthy Soils Program (HSP) Demonstration Projects administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Our report, which reflects feedback from more than half of the 66 total demonstration projects active or completed as of March 2022, examines the impact of the projects as well as opportunities to scale up and sustain the use of healthy soils practices in California. The full report is available here, and a summary is available here

Healthy Soils Demonstration Report
Click to read the report.

HSP Demonstration Projects have the potential to catalyze wider adoption of healthy soils practices through demonstration, outreach, and research beyond what can be directly incentivized by the state.  As California farmers and ranchers continue to experience worsening impacts of climate change, there is an urgent need to deliver on California’s goal of scaling up healthy soils practices to increase climate resilience, sequester carbon, and provide a suite of co-benefits, as outlined in California’s Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy and Pathways to 30×30 documents that identify strategies for nature-based solutions to advance California’s carbon neutrality goal.

We found that the HSP Demonstration Projects have been important sites of connection and learning and have generated meaningful research insights. However, some program changes and follow-up are needed to help realize the full potential of the program and better understand program impacts on practice adoption, including: funding for a broader research agenda, longer project timelines, participant-centered program design, and program flexibility to allow farmers to experiment and respond to factors on-the-ground.

Established by the state of California in 2016, the Healthy Soils Program has two components: Incentives, which directly funds farmers to adopt healthy soils practices, and Demonstration Projects, which bring together farmers, technical assistance providers, and researchers to showcase healthy soils practices and engage in on-farm research and outreach. This report focuses on the Demonstration Projects.

Since the program’s launch in 2017, the Demonstration Projects component has invested $11.1M in 78 projects to demonstrate 25 healthy soils practices. To date, the Demonstration Projects have reached 5,123 farmers and ranchers across 29 counties. 

In our report, we provide a brief overview and history of these projects, discuss program successes, and highlight ways to increase program effectiveness and better meet program objectives. The findings and recommendations in the report are based on analysis of the latest program data available from CDFA as well as interviews and surveys with program participants, including farmers, technical assistance providers, and researchers.

Number of Demonstration Projects Implementing Each Practice, 2017-2021.

Demonstration projects may implement more than one practice, so graph totals exceed the total number of projects. There are two types of demonstration projects, Type A and Type B. Both types demonstrate healthy soils practices and outreach. Type A projects also conduct research on the carbon sequestration effects of healthy soils practices.

 

We found that the Demonstration Projects have fostered new connections and learning between growers, technical assistance providers, agricultural professionals, and researchers. The program has generated meaningful soil science insights, such as understanding the yield and soil carbon impacts of specific healthy soils practices. Farmers and ranchers shared experiences of seeing their neighbors try new healthy soils practices in part due to their demonstration project’s influence. 

The Demonstration Projects can play a key role in supporting more widespread adoption of healthy soils practices. However, participants also shared that some program adjustments are needed to maximize program effectiveness. To better support adoption, Demonstration Projects would benefit from a broader research agenda beyond carbon sequestration and yield as well as longer research timelines to capture the full benefits of practice adoption. Economic, co-benefit, and ecosystem service research, which is currently optional in the program, is needed to spur practice adoption. Most projects did not include these components due to funding constraints. As the benefits of adopting healthy soils practices can take several years to be realized, while the majority of costs are typically upfront, a longer research period of 5 – 10 years would allow researchers to more accurately measure changes in soil carbon and perform economic and ecosystem service analysis.

Additionally, we found that there is a need for CDFA to develop processes to more regularly solicit, discuss, and incorporate stakeholder feedback into the HSP Demonstration Project application, program guidance, and reporting requirements. The program should offer maximum flexibility to farmers and project partners to allow farmers to innovate and experiment with new healthy soils practices. 

For a detailed overview of our full findings and recommendations, please view the report here. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on the report, and hope that you join us in supporting this important program. Please email Anna at anna(at)calclimateag.org to be in touch.

Stay Connected
Get newsletter and blog updates and action alerts from CalCAN