California RCDs, CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program leading the way to climate smart ag

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Guest column by Kristen Murphy

California RCDs resource conservation districts (RCDs) are innovators in carbon farm plans, carbon accounting for farm practices, and carbon farming – including compost on rangeland. Through programs, demonstrations, and partnerships, RCDs are leading the way in assisting farmers and ranchers throughout the state.

Karen Buhr, executive director of CARCD, and Carlos Suarez, NRCS state conservationist, at the signing of the healthy soils MOU.

17 three-year long compost field trials have emerged in seven RCD regions, and carbon farming projects are being supported by RCDs or their partners in all ten California RCD districts.

These projects are the first of their kind, enabling practice adoption and farmer outreach similar to the demonstration component of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program.

The Healthy Soils Program (HSP) provides funding for individual projects as well as demonstrations. California RCDs and CARCD have participated in public planning sessions and provided framework commentary (Executive Director Vicky Dawley of Tehama County RCD sits on the program’s guiding body: the Environmental Farming Act – Science Advisory Panel). California’s RCDs have been extremely involved in the HSP sister program  – State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) – and expect to have a similarly significant role in HSP. Over 525 SWEEP projects aimed at improving on-farm irrigation systems have been funded, with the majority of their verifications done by local RCDs.

CARCD is supporting the CDFA’s HSP in many ways, including through a recent MOU with The California Farm Bureau Federation, CDFA, NRCS California, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, and UC Davis. The MOU will align already existing soil health programs and networks around the state, including the Compost Field Trials, Soil Health Hubs, and CDFA’s HSP, creating a statewide farm demonstration network of producers, conservationists, and researchers aimed at building awareness around conservation and carbon-smart practices, as well as support for these practices within state agencies and among private citizens, funders, and producers.

“The MOU is groundbreaking in its alignment of local government, state, federal, non-profit, and academic entities working collaboratively to advance conservation agriculture,” said Karen Buhr, CARCD’s executive director. “This marks the beginning of a statewide program patterned after the NRCS EQIP program. A recent article on the Healthy Soils Program published in the New York Times highlights the work we have all supported for the last ten years.”

Kristen Murphy is the project coordinator for the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. She can be reached by email at

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