Agriculture

Agriculture

Before Resource Conservation Districts assisted in the management of all natural resources local to their district, they were Soil Conservation Districts, as preempted by the great Dust Bowl event of the 1940s. RCDs were created to conserve and protect the health of our nation’s soils as the foundation for agricultural health and stability. Resource Conservation Districts have strong ties to the agricultural community. In the early days of our RCD, staff was composed mostly of farmers, and today, our board of directors are mostly farmers. While the RCD has evolved and expanded with the changing needs of West Sonoma County’s diverse communities, farmers, ranchers, and producers are an integral part of the history, mission, and focus of RCD work.

Today, Gold Ridge RCD still assists in stewarding our district’s agriculture by providing technical assistance for conservation practices that improves soil, plant, water, human, and/or planetary health, while specifically increasing soil organic matter by sequestering carbon.The RCD completes projects that prevent and treat soil erosion, conserve agricultural water resources, developing sustainable pasture and rangeland management plans, developing carbon farm plans (strategic planning for farms and ranches to curb and sequester greenhouse gas emissions) and improving the availability of resources related to the specialized material Biochar. The RCD also rents out a special piece of equipment called a no-till drill which conserves vital soil microbial health while sowing seed.

Many of our Agriculture Programs are directly linked and intertwined with our Climate Change Mitigation, Wildfire, Water and other programs. Carbon Farm Planning and agricultural conservation practices are climate-beneficial practices that target climate change mitigation on agricultural lands. For more information on our agricultural work focused on climate change mitigation, check out our Climate Change Mitigation Programs page here.

Frequently served: Farmers, ranchers, dairy operators

Applications are now being accepted for technical and financial assistance to plan and implement climate-smart agricultural management practices on your farm or ranch.

The Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) in Sonoma and Marin counties have secured competitive grant funds and are currently managing farmer incentive payment programs designed to support agricultural producers. Producers interested in adopting management practices that increase resilience to a changing climate and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels can apply HERE. More information below. 

Climate-Smart Agriculture sometimes called Carbon Farming is guided by four main goals:

  1. Increased fertility and productivity
  2. Increased rates of carbon capture and storage in soils and woody plants
  3. Enhanced climate resilience 
  4. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions

Climate-Smart agricultural management includes many conservation practices that farmers and ranchers are already familiar with, including:

  • Residue and Tillage Management, No Till
  • Organic soil amendments (compost)
  • Mulching
  • Cover cropping
  • Nutrient management
  • Agroforestry (windbreaks, hedgerows, tree and shrub plantings, etc.)

Participating in the Program Includes the Following: 

Producer Incentive Payments for climate-smart agricultural practices, in most cases, are based on California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) cost rates. The RCDs typically require up to 15% landowner cash or in-kind match contributions for implemented projects. 

Technical Assistance to plan, implement, and monitor project  success will be provided by an RCD conservation planner or partner organization. All funded projects will include multi-year soil sampling, practice design and maintenance specifications and standards, and photo-monitoring. 

Carbon Farm Planning funding may also be available through the RCDs to assess the full potential to maximize on-farm carbon capture and storage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural land management. Carbon farm plan development involves working closely with a RCD conservation planner to ensure the plan captures the full potential of the farm or ranch, while also supporting the producer’s long-term goals for the operation. Carbon farm plan development entails a series of site visits, data and information collection, and plan review.

Click here learn more about Carbon Farm Plans

Eligibility to receive RCD Climate-Smart Agriculture incentive payments and/or carbon farm plans, in most cases, will require the farm or ranch to have or apply for a USDA Farm Service Agency Identification Number.

What is a USDA Farm Services Agency (FSA) Farm Number?

A FSA farm number from USDA identifies your farm’s location. The farm number is attached to your land, not you as a farmer. The farm number stays with the land once it is recorded regardless of who owns or manages the land.

A farm number can help you get USDA funding for your farm or ranch. You’re required to have an FSA farm number to apply for USDA grant and loan programs. Some of the programs that require a farm number include:

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • FSA loans and microloans 
  • FSA disaster assistance
  • USDA crop insurance
  • Participating in FSA County Committee Elections
  • Being counted in the Agricultural Census, which means your county might receive more resources in the future.

Primary 2024-2025 funding sources for Climate-Smart Agricultural Planning and Practice Implementation through your local RCD:

  • Sonoma-Marin Ag and County Climate Coalition (SMACCC) Pilot Project. More information HERE
  • California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program Block Grant & Conservation Agriculture Planning Grant. More information HERE

If you have questions feel free to reach out to emma@goldridgercd.org 

Interest Form can be Accessed HERE

We will reach out to you if/when available funding and selection criteria aligns with your requests.

Conserving water where we have it and using it responsibly is a major charge for the Gold Ridge RCD. Conservation measures and projects such as protecting groundwater supply, helping to improve water use efficiency, and developing alternative water sources and supplies such as greywater, rainwater and building seasonal water storage are all essential parts of local water conservation in California’s Mediterranean climate.

For more information on water conservation, check out our Water Programs page here

Project examples: 

Westview Jerseys Dairy Water Conservation Project

Bodega Goat Ranch Rainwater Catchment Project

Resources: 

  1. On-Farm Agricultural Water Stewardship Practices – California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative
  2. Sonoma County Rainwater Harvesting Rebate Program – Sonoma- Marin Saving Water Partnership
  3. Click here to find more resources on agricultural water conservation

LandSmart is a regional collaborative program that helps land managers meet their natural resource management goals while supporting productive lands and thriving streams. LandSmart was developed by the Sonoma RCD, Napa County RCD, Mendocino County RCD, and Gold Ridge RCD in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), land managers, and environmental agencies.

LandSmart Plans are prepared with landowners and are geared to meet individual landowner and property needs. LandSmart Plans describe the natural and agricultural resources of a property, document the practices used to protect natural resources, identify opportunities to maintain or improve the quality of natural resources on the property, and prioritize management practices according to individual landowners’ needs, goals, and timelines.

There are many benefits to having a LandSmart Plan. Plans comply with the requirements of current and future water quality regulations, including water quality Conditional Waivers and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). Plans also address any concerns landowners have about specific areas of their property, solidify priorities for land management activities, and determine a timeline that is feasible for the landowner to implement their individual priorities. LandSmart Plans implement land management practices that improve the long term productivity and profitability of your land while protecting natural resources.

What does a Farm/Ranch Plan include?

  • Mapping and Inventory of property features such as planted areas, streams, riparian areas, roads, etc.
  • Water Supply – water sources, irrigation, frost protection
  • Erosion control – cover cropping, streambank stabilization, road repair
  • Nutrient management – manure, fertilizer, compost
  • Pest management – chemical, biological, cultural practices, potential to increase pollinator species
  • Management of riparian areas – invasive plant removal, native vegetation enhancement
  • Any other issues or management practices of interest to landowners

Project Examples:

RCD Project Tracker | LandSmart On-the-Ground for Sonoma Creek Vineyards | Fact Sheet (rcdprojects.org)

RCD Project Tracker | Carbon Farm Plan: Three Springs Community Farm LandSmart® Ranch Plan | Fact Sheet (rcdprojects.org)

Resources:

  1. Templates & Reference Guides | LandSmart
  2. Resources | LandSmart
  3. Click here for more LandSmart resources.
  4. Click here for the ‘Materials for Grazing Co-Operatives Grant’ Application.

The North Coast Soil Hub is a regional network dedicated to advancing the adoption of climate-friendly agriculture in California’s North Coast region that is coordinated by a seven-way partnership of Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) — Gold Ridge RCD, Humboldt RCD, Lake RCD, Marin RCD, Mendocino RCD, Napa County RCD, and Sonoma RCD. In order to meet the demand for knowledge about how to build and maintain healthy soils on working lands, RCDs provide farmers and ranchers with outreach, education, planning, and implementation services through the North Coast Soil Hub.

RCDs in the North Coast region provide one-on-one technical assistance to agricultural producers to help plan and implement climate-friendly management practices such as compost application, reduced tillage, improved cover cropping, and hedgerow installation. The North Coast Soil Hub has also completed a widespread soil sampling effort in vineyards throughout the region to create a locally calibrated soil health database where growers can get information on how their soil health compares to other vineyards with similar site conditions. This database has been used to create custom soil reports for wine grape growers throughout California’s North Coast.

Program Examples: 

Ways to Participate: Visit soilhub.org to read the latest on this project and to sign up for the quarterly newsletter.

Resources: 

  1. Soil Health – Napa County RCD 
  2. North Coast Soil Hub Receives 2022 Outstanding Conservation Planning Partnership of the Year Award from USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service | by Gold Ridge RCD | Resource Conservation Network | Medium
  3. Click here for more resources on the North Coast Soil Hub.

No-Till Drill:

The RCD owns a compact rangeland No-Till Drill (NTD) which is available for rent at low cost to landowners. The drill is most appropriate for rangeland and pasture settings, as well as cover crop seeding for veggie farms (if you have wide enough gates). It is too wide for vineyard rows and it is too tall for orchard trees. Please note that the use of this drill is strictly limited to Sonoma and Marin Counties. If you are inquiring from a surrounding county, we encourage you to contact your local RCD and express your interest in using a No-Till Drill. If they receive feedback about the need for a drill in your community, then perhaps grant funds can be obtained to purchase the equipment.

The No-Till Drill is available for $200/day for residents within the GRRCD and $250/day for residents outside of the district. Each year, the drill is typically used by 15 to 20 landowners. Each year we receive inquiries from 30 to 35 landowners, and we are unfortunately unable to serve every person who inquires.

Requirements:

  • It is a pull behind (it has wheels on the end of the drill) and we have a clevis hitch for use. 
  • You need a ¾ ton pick-up truck as the drill weighs ~3000 lbs.  It has no suspension.  It needs to be transported slowly otherwise it will be damaged.
  • 20 mph max speed when moving the drill from site to site. 
  • 40 hp tractor with hydraulic hook ups. The drill has a planting coverage of about 7 feet.  A good rule of thumb is that you can cover about 2 acres per hour (flat ground).
  • The drill itself is about 9 feet wide – maybe a little wider.  It is street legal and it has the necessary orange signs for agricultural equipment. 
  • Treat the drill like you own it.  Tell us if you break something.

How it Works: Our machine is a Great Plains 606NT 6-foot No-Till Drill. The NTD is a towed seeding implement with end wheels and it has a planting width of 7.5 feet and an overall width of 11 feet. The opener discs make a seed bed, and seed tubes mounted between the discs place seed in the furrow. Press wheels following the opener discs close the furrow and gauge opener seeding depth.

Benefits of conservation tillage: Depending on its condition or state, soils are a living dynamic organism that functions in a holistic way, rather than as an inanimate mixture of sand, silt, and clay (Doran, 1999). Soils are neither good nor bad; rather soils are either healthy or unhealthy, the difference being that healthy soils have the capacity:

  • To function as a vital living system (within ecosystem and land use boundaries);
  • To sustain biological productivity;
  • To promote the quality of air and water environments; andTo maintain plant, animal, and human health.

The practice of conservation tillage contributes substantially to better soil health as compared to the practice of conventional plowing. Most importantly, conservation tillage reduces the impacts of soil erosion – erosion carries away soil, nutrients and organic matter. Based on 2009 USDA estimates, the total cost of eroded soil is between $6.10 and $6.40 per ton. No-till seeding provides winter vegetative cover without tilling the soil, improving soil permeability and reducing both runoff and erosion. Because there is no tillage, use near water bodies does not endanger water quality but acts to protect and enhance it, as improving vegetative cover during the winter further reduces runoff and erosion. A no-till approach leaves plant residue (from harvest, cover cropping, etc.) on the surface, rather than tilling it in, which further protects the soil from erosion and imparts additional benefits.

Ways to Participate: Contact William Hart if you are interested in renting our No-Till Drill. 

Resources:

  1. Video from Pierce Conservation District in Washington state – Deke Adams from LandPride share information about the drill as if the drill was just delivered to your ranch.  This is a comprehensive video about the different features on the drill, how it works, how to calibrate, seed depth, etc.  This is a great informational video with pro tips from an expert.  We recommend that you watch this video if you have never used the drill before ( ~30 minute long video).
  2. No-Till Farmer
  3. Click here for resources on the no-till drill and conservation tillage.

The Gold Ridge RCD offers technical and financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and producers to aid in soil sampling, erosion control, compost application, biochar application, conservation tillage, and pasture and rangeland management. These soil health conservation practices can be implemented individually as well as part of larger comprehensive conservation plans and Carbon Farm Plans. We also offer some services to assist producers in complying with new regulations as they emerge. To learn more, see resources in the Resource Library or contact us.

Project Examples:

Resources:

  1. Nutrient Management for Small Coastal Dairies
  2. Carbon Sequestration Through Compost Application Pilot Program | by Gold Ridge RCD | Medium
  3. Click here for more resources on soil health technical assistance

Gold Ridge RCD previously received a grant from CalRecycle for the cleanup of illegal solid waste sites on farm or ranch property. A site may be eligible for funding if the parcel is zoned for agricultural use, where unauthorized solid waste disposal has occurred, and where the site is in need of cleanup in order to abate a nuisance or public health and safety threat and/or a threat to the environment. Our goals for this program included implementing cleanup of various types of debris on over 12,000 square feet of land, preventing future dumping by posting “no trespassing” signs and cameras, remediating the sites to their original state, and diverting as much waste as possible from landfills.

Project examples:

Resources:

  1. Farm and Ranch Solid Waste Cleanup and Abatement Grant Program – CalRecycle
  2. Illegal dumping | Zero Waste Sonoma
  3. Click here to find more resources on solid waste and illegal dumping cleanup

For more information on Carbon Farm Planning, check out the Carbon Farm Planning section under our Climate Programs here.