Sacramento, California - Ask a shopper where their food comes from, and the answer might be “the supermarket” or “the farmers’ market,” or maybe even “a farm” or “a farmer.” Those are all true, but of course they aren’t the whole story. Ask a farmer the same question, and you’re likely to hear “the soil.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere…

In his recent budget proposal, Governor Brown included a Healthy Soils Initiative, saying: “Increased carbon in soils is responsible for numerous benefits including increased water-holding capacity, increased crop yields and decreased sediment erosion. In the upcoming year, the Administration will work on several new initiatives to increase carbon in soil and establish long term goals for carbon levels in all of California’s agricultural soils. CDFA will coordinate this initiative under its existing authority provided by the Environmental Farming Act.”

The first step of this new initiative was for CDFA to gather key agencies including CalEPA, CalRecycle, the Water Boards, the Air Resources Board, the Resources Agency, the Department of Conservation, the Department of Water Resources and others to take stock of current programs to improve the health of our soils, and to gauge research efforts, additional opportunities and barriers.

The group has identified five action measures that the state should pursue:

  • Action 1 – Protect and Restore Soil Organic Matter (Soil Carbon) in soils to Ensure Climate Change Mitigation and Food and Economic Security
  • Action 2 – Identify Sustainable and Integrated Financing Opportunities to Facilitate Healthy Soils
  • Action 3 – Research, Education and Technical Support to Facilitate Healthy Soils
  • Action 4 – Increase Governmental Efficiencies to Facilitate Healthy Soils
  • Action 5 – Ensure Long Term Interagency Coordination and Collaboration

For each of these measures, the group has prescribed specific activities – meaningful actions such as “develop incentive programs to promote cover crops, crop rotation and organic amendments, such as compost” and “implement demonstration projects for growers on a range of crops to highlight management practices that offer multiple benefits including building soil carbon, improving water retention and addressing climate change resilience while optimizing productivity.”

The California Healthy Soils Initiative makes it clear just how important these actions will be: “it is critical to ensure the soil system, which is the fundamental growing medium for our food production, is sustainable long into the future, resilient to potential climate change impacts such as droughts, and able to produce crop yields to sustain a growing population.”