High Demands for Sustainability Call for Solutions from the Land
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
With an increasing population and fewer resources, the agriculture industry is under increasing pressure to remain sustainable. Solutions from the Land is meeting this challenge head-on by examining more progressive ways to produce.
Solutions From The Land is a farmer-led platform that advocates for multiple solutions towards well-managed agricultural landscapes that can still meet the demands of an increasing population.
Ernie Shea, president of Solutions From The Land, is optimistic about California agriculture’s future.
“We’ve had significant investments in technology and infrastructure that have allowed the systems to deploy at a scale, but more than anything, we’ve had progressive leaders that have helped to champion this cause,” he said.
One of the pathways Solutions From The Land is working towards is soil health programming. Through this, farmers are improving the organic content in their soil and soaking up leached water.
“They’re sequestering greenhouse gases and delivering global solutions,” Shea explained.
The organization has partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and encouraged government leaders to endorse soil health programming in hopes that they will help farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions.
“We hope someday we’ll add economic value to the carbon that we’re sinking and reward the producers for it,” Shea said
Researcher Invites Public to Visit San Joaquin Valley Soil Health Demonstration site in Five Points
UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell is issuing a standing invitation to the public to visit the site of an ongoing conservation agriculture research project and see for themselves the results of long-term soil building practices.
“Every Friday morning from 9 o’clock till noon, beginning in February and going through June, I invite folks to come to the project site to see up close and personal just what soil health means,” Mitchell said.
“I promise to be out there every Friday morning from Feb. 15 through June 26,” Mitchell said.
The project, funded by the Natural Resources Institute, compares plots that have been managed for more than 20 years in an annual rotation of cotton, processing tomatoes and, more recently, sorghum, garbanzo beans and melons under four different treatments: no-tilled plus cover crops, no-tilled with no cover crops, conventionally tilled with cover crops and conventionally tilled without cover crops.
“What we’ve got at this site is a very long-term example of exactly what implementation of a small set of soil care, or soil health, principles really means for soil function and management,” Mitchell explained.
Mitchell said that the study site in Five Points is a valuable resource for the people of California because of its dedicated adherence to principles that are widely touted to improve production efficiencies, reduce dust emissions, sequester carbon and reduce inputs over time.
“I recently heard about the value of publicly showcasing long-term sites such as the one we’ve got in Five Points. It’s being done in several other places, including the Dakotas and in Europe,” Mitchell said. “It just seems to make sense to open up our field more widely to folks who might be interested in seeing the remarkable changes we’ve seen and monitored for a long time.”
According to Mitchell, the NRI Project field is already “the most visited research field in the state,” but with this new invitation, he is hoping to have still broader impact.
“We’ve got a simply amazing resource here and I want folks to see it,” he said.
The study has been selected as one of the monitoring sites of the North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements that have been initiated by the Soil Health Institute of Morrisville, N.C. More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles have been published based on work done in this study field.
“The impetus of our program,” said Christine McMorrow, director of development for Land-Based Learning, “is the need for more farmers as the current ones age out. According to the USDA, over 700,000 new farmers will be needed in the next 20 years to replace those who retire.
CFA teachers, farmers, academic faculty and staff, and agricultural, natural resource and business professionals, teach CFA students basic production agricultural practices; crop planning; soil science; pest management; organic agriculture; irrigation and water management; marketing; ecology and conservation; obtaining loans, insurance and permits; farm financials; human resource management; risk management; farm safety; regulatory compliance and problem-solving.
McMorrow stated, “These folks have been with us since February, following a rigorous application process. A lot of these folks either have land they have dreamed of farming but did not know how to put it into production. Some of them come from farming families, but they wanted to get involved in the family business on their own. They may have been in a different career and now want to do something new or different. Perhaps they haven’t studied agriculture or they have not seen much agriculture other than what their family does, so this is an opportunity for them to learn and to explore a new business idea.
“We only take people who are serious about production agriculture. This is not a program for somebody who thinks, ‘I’ve got an acre in my backyard and I really want to grow something.’ While that’s a cool thing to do, the academy is not for those people.”
“Our graduating farmers, who range in age from their late 20s to early 50s, each wrote a business plan and presented it to folks within the agriculture industry,” said McMorrow. “They also planted some of their own crops on a farm in Winters.
McMorrow elaborated, “These new farmers have been able to create their own networks, having made contact with more than 40 different folks within the agricultural industry throughout the time they spent with us. These networks include local farmers around Yolo County, Solano County, Sacramento County, and other regions, and will help our graduates realize their dreams.”
“This is the fifth class that has graduated,” explained McMorrow, “and mind you, these folks are doing lots of different things. Some of them already have their own land, some are going to work for someone who has land, some will work other farmers, and some will go into a food-related business.”
“Still others will stay and lease small plots of land from us,” McMorrow commented, “to start their own farming business. Beginning farmers face huge barriers to getting started, the biggest of which is access to land, capital and infrastructure. So, to get their farming businesses started, California Farm Academy alumni are eligible to lease land at sites in West Sacramento, Davis and Winters at a very low cost.”