This article was written by Bark Media on behalf of RCDs in Marin and Sonoma counties
Marin, Sonoma, and Gold Ridge Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) have been selected as recipients of the USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Award, a program that prioritizes soil-building farming practices and markets for climate-smart agricultural products. The investment builds on a movement led by local farmers and ranchers to steward agricultural lands in ways that regenerate the soil and build long term climate resilience on working lands.
In recent years, carbon farming, or climate-friendly agriculture, has gained traction in California as a pathway to managing landscapes in a way that addresses the abundance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere while simultaneously enhancing the resilience of vulnerable farmland.
Carbon farming refers to a set of agricultural practices that accelerate the rate at which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and drawn down into plant material and soil organic matter.
Through adopting climate-friendly practices, local food and fiber producers are building soil health, supporting biodiversity, and increasing the long-term viability of farms while simultaneously reducing our carbon footprint. Across Marin and Sonoma farmers and ranchers are adopting climate-friendly practices like reduced till and no-till farming, prescribed grazing, cover crops, and silvopasture. Still, the demand for more support to transition to climate-friendly agriculture remains high.
In September 2022, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made a significant investment in climate-smart agriculture by announcing more than $2.8 billion for seventy total projects across the country that will expand market opportunities for climate-smart agricultural products. Marin, Gold Ridge, and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) and their partners were among the projects selected, receiving $10 million over the course of five years to expand carbon farming programs in Sonoma and Marin counties. The “Sonoma Marin Ag and County Climate Coalition” will focus on supporting farmers who are transitioning to climate-friendly practices and building regional and local food partnerships across the two counties. The project will also create a system for tracking progress toward meeting county greenhouse gas reduction and carbon sequestration targets on agricultural lands and help market climate-friendly products by uplifting the role of farmers and ranchers in climate change mitigation.
The Sonoma Marin Ag and County Climate Coalition project will build on RCDs’ cutting-edge sustainable agricultural programs and county climate action and resilience planning in Sonoma and Marin. The project leverages the Carbon Cycle Institute’s carbon farm planning framework and partnerships with RCDs to establish local carbon farming programs and integrate the agricultural sector into county-level climate initiatives.
“This funding is a testament to the strong relationships among agricultural conservation organizations, county government, and the local agricultural community and their long history of innovation,” says Nancy Scolari, Executive Director of Marin RCD. “This funding will support Marin and Sonoma farmers and ranchers and their role as land and climate stewards.”
What this Funding Means for the Future of Agriculture
The growing movement to adopt farming practices that are good for the planet and good for business has reached an unprecedented level with the USDA’s investment. The increased support for practices that build soil health, rather than deplete it, better ensures our food and farming ecosystems are resilient to the conditions of the changing climate. The investment guarantees an influx of technical assistance for producers — including small and historically underserved producers — with the support needed to strengthen their resilience to climate-related disaster events while leveraging their lands’ potential to sequester and store carbon.
This investment also represents a promise to farmers and ranchers that federal priorities include the long-term health of our working lands. In the United States, the conventional agricultural support system is currently not set up to regenerate soil, and instead prioritizes high yield over sustainable practices. The USDA’s investment is a market signal to producers, businesses, and institutions that adopting climate-smart agriculture will be key to success in the future.
Expanding Technical Assistance to Reduce Producer Barriers
There is a growing interest among farmers and ranchers to adopt climate-friendly practices. Currently, Marin, Gold Ridge, and Sonoma RCDs offer assistance to farmers and ranchers to design and implement carbon farm plans, with demands for this service far outweighing existing capacity. Technical assistance provided by the RCDs offers on-the-ground support for producers to develop regionally appropriate climate mitigation and adaptation strategies that result in lasting change, community economic development, and greater access to climate-smart agricultural products.
Over the last decade, RCDs in Marin and Sonoma counties, in partnership with NRCS, county extension services and agricultural departments, and the Carbon Cycle Institute have been building carbon farming programs directly linked to county-level climate action planning and regional supply chains for climate-smart fiber, organic dairy, pasture-raised meat, and sustainably produced wine. These local conservation partnerships have become a model across the state for advancing agricultural climate solutions grounded in community economic development and climate action.
For more information about the USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding, please visit https://www.usda.gov/climate-solutions/climate-smart-commodities