What is the Healthy Soils Program?

The Healthy Soils Program provides funding to farmers and ranchers to integrate soil-building management practices that also increase on-farm carbon sequestration and reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions into their operations. Click on the eligible practices below to learn more about the benefits of implementing healthy soil practices for farmers and ranchers.

  • Provides organic matter and plant nutrients, resulting in enhanced plant growth and healthier, more reliable harvests
  • Improves soil tilth, health, and moisture retention, reducing farmer sowing and water costs
  • Reduces erosion and soil loss, reducing long-term farmer and vineyard maintenance costs
  • Reduces nutrient leaching, allowing more fertilizers to stay on-site/reducing costs associated with additional fertilization

  • Slows erosion which improves soil health & enhances water availability, increasing resiliency against drought
  • Smothers weeds and controls pests and disease, improving yields
  • Breaks through plow pan, and thus less dependent on tractor tillage, which can breakup important soil structure, causing loss of moisture and organic matter
  • Adds organic matter to soil, which boosts microbial life and ability to hold onto nutrients, and thus increase yield
  • Improves crop diversity
  • Natural source of fertilizer when planting legumes which decreases inputs
  • Holds nutrients (nitrogen) in the plant biomass, released when the plant is mowed or plowed under
  • Reduces need for fertilizer inputs

Sunol AgPark History

  • Start-up costs for establishing hedgerows can be substantial, but with economic returns, farmers can break even in as little as 7 years
  • Technical assistance and grants can make this more accessible
  • The environmental benefits of having a hedgerow include pest control, pollination, improved water and air quality, and can serve as beneficial wildlife habitat
  • Cost savings come in the from of reducing inputs, such as for bee hives, insecticides, and pesticides

  • Provides organic matter, resulting in enhanced plant growth and healthier, more reliable harvests
  • Improves soil health, reduces soil compaction, and increases moisture retention, reducing farmer sowing and water costs
  • Reduces erosion and soil loss, reducing long-term farmer and vineyard maintenance costs
  • Suppresses weeds, decreasing the need to pesticides or labor costs for weed management
  • Allows vehicle access after heavy rainfall
  • Keeps fruits and vegetables clean, reducing water costs for cleaning crops
  • Increases soil organism diversity, moving towards a more beneficial fungal community, increases plant nutrient uptake
  • Creates a habitat to beneficial insects, reducing pesticide needs

WOW Farms Flowers

  • Increased shelter for stock, leading to increased stock health and birthing rates
  • Shelter for pasture and crops, resulting in increased production
  • Creates habitat for birds, which act as pest management, reducing pesticide use/costs)
  • Spray drift moderation
  • Increases habitat & overwintering sites for plant pollinators & beneficial insects
  • Increased farm value
  • Reduced salinity, waterlogging, wind and water erosion problems
  • Firewood and timber production

  • Helps stabilize streambanks, slowing out-of-bank flood flows and protecting cropland from flooding
  • Reduces erosion and siltation of stream and pond banks while the roots improve groundwater flow into reservoir, preventing clogging of irrigation and increasing water quality for livestock
  • Can provide shade and reduce evaporative water loss
  • Can add potential income from harvesting woodland products or food from nut and fruit trees and shrubs

 

  • No-till or reduced-till practices require less tractor passes and thus, less fuel
  • Studies show that conventional tillage methods use over 6 gallons of diesel fuel per acre each year, while no-till requires under 2 gallons.
  • Less time on a tractor, lowering labor costs
  • No-till practices reduce soil erosion, increase soil biological activity, and increase soil organic matter, all of which increase yield and thus result in economic gains
  • Improving soil health can also lead to improved water holding capacity and protect against crop loss during times of drought

  • Increase soil health and improves water infiltration
  • Reduces runoff, soil erosion, and water contamination
  • Animal droppings can serve as natural fertilizer, offering savings by reducing the need for inputs
  • Result in increased forage quality and quantity, which improves animal health

  • Provides forage for livestock and meets nutritional needs of livestock
  • As seeded plants grow roots, they build soil organic matter, increasing soil nutrients and improving water infiltration
  • Reduces soil erosion by wind or water
  • Pollinator friendly plants increase diversity of forage

  • Trees act as a windblock and plants cover soil, acting as wind and weather protection
  • Creates a cooler environment in the summer for livestock (reducing heat related stress) and allows for shaded, cool-season forage plants to be grown that provide more nutrition for livestock
  • Also allows for a diversification of income streams
  • Creates wildlife diversity and improves water quality while providing an aesthetically pleasing setting
  • Pastures with trees sequester five to 10 times more carbon than a pastures with no trees.

  • Reduce soil erosion from wind, protects crops, livestock, and farmsteads
  • Improves air quality by intercepting drifting soil particles, chemicals, and odors
  • Increases diversity and quantity of nesting birds by providing habitat, reducing the need for insecticide use

  • Selecting the right fertilization product, the right amount, and the right time and place to match plant needs, increases farming profitability and minimizes nutrient losses to the environment
  • Nutrient loss reduction can reduce or eliminate excessive algae growth and subsequent loss of fish populations and resulting odors
  • Overuse of fertilizers can lead to excessive metals and other unwanted contaminants in the soil/plants
  • Excessive water nitrogen concentrations can cause problems for horses & ruminants

  • Reduces costs associated with removing or permits for burning on site.
  • Soil wise: Sequesters carbon (8+ tons per ha of Carbon sequestered), reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves soil structure, lower pH, higher soil carbon, reduced compaction, increased organic matter (20-30 years of growth/60 tons per acre of organic matter is kept on site (for almond))
  • More wood rotting basidiomycetes (soil aggregating fungi/mushrooms), more bacterial and fungal feeding nematodes,
  • Water wise: Significantly higher water infiltration rate, i.e. reduced run off, increased water holding capacity by about 15%, less mid-day water stress within the tree stems, increases water use efficiency.
  • Increased yields/productivity: Increased shoot growth after the 2nd year, tree circumference increase after 4th year, less bud failure in almonds
  • Nutrients released gradually & naturally as the woodchips decompose, increases soil nutrient levels over time
  • Significantly reduces Pythium ultimum (& Phytophthora), which causes root rot. Believed the fungal community that break down cellulose in the cell walls, also break down cell walls in pathogens.

  • Roots of the plants promote soil health by building soil organic matter, retaining soil nutrients, and improving water infiltration
  • Plant cover prevents soil erosion
  • Reduction in airborne particulate matter & waterborne nutrient runoff
  • Improves or maintains livestock nutrition & health
  • Provides forage supplies during periods of low forage production
  • Provides food sources & habitat for birds & beneficial insects, reducing insecticide use

  • Controls water and wind erosion, keeping topsoil on site
  • Provides food sources & habitat for birds & beneficial insects, reducing insecticide use
  • Provides a turning point for farm equipment
  • Filters nutrient and chemical runoff to improve water quality
  • Grass & legume strips can be used for forage or harvested end of season
  • Improves farm aesthetics

  • Reduces soil erosion & subsequent downstream sedimentation, improves soil tilth and subsurface drainage, resulting in improved water quality & reduced flooding from blocked streams
  • Increases diversity of grassland nesting birds by providing insect food sources and habitat, reduces need for insecticide use on crops & grazing animals
  • Protects soil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and increases land resiliency to projected climate changes
  • Can provide pollen and nectar-rich forage resources for pollinators, increasing crop quality & yield

 

Testimonials

Prescribed Grazing: You can find an example of cost savings at Paicines Ranch, who were able to save a total of $391 per acre, putting the sheep to work with hand suckering, weeding, mowing/discing, fertilizing, and irrigating. Click here to read more.

No-till or Reduced Till: Singing Frogs Farm has proven to be productive and profitable as a no-till farm. They have quadrupled their soil organic matter, tripled their microbial life in their soil, increase flora and fauna population and diversity, and reduced water usage. They make $100,000 in vegetable sales/crop/acre. Click here to read more.

Hedgerow Planting: Burrough Family Farms is just one of many farms in CA that have benefited from having hedgerows on their farm. They have lavender, native grasses, butterfly bushes, rosemary, an other native plants, which is home to pollinators, birds, and many other wildlife. Click here to read more.

Cover Crop: Phill Foster of Pinnacle Organically Grown Produce wasn’t always an organic grower, but transitioned into organic production because of its economics. Cover cropping is one of the regenerative practices that he uses. It takes little effort to plant the cover crop. With goals of being a low-till operation, the cover crop he uses assists with opening up the ground. He uses a cover crop mix with vetch for its nitrogen addition, and safflower, for its deep taproot that helps open up the sol and access nutrients from deeper in the soil. The cover crop grows quickly, taking over the field, outcompeting undesirable weeds. Click here to read more

Visit UCANR Climate Smart Agriculture blog to continue exploring the profiles of farmers and ranchers and their experiences with various practices.

Technical Assistance

If you are interested in the Healthy Soils Incentives Program, please reach out to ACRCD for:

  • More information about the Healthy Soils Program
  • Review your project ideas or answer any questions
  • Application assistance
  • Help you with implementation, monitoring, and reporting after grant awards are received

Primary Contact(s)

Drew Engstrom

Resources

CDFA Website