Helping Farmers & Ranchers
Our local farms and ranches not only produce food, fiber, and fuels, but also steward our natural environment and drives our local economy. Sonoma County supports a $811,446,600 agricultural industry per the 2021 crop report from the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures. The cool coastal climate, rolling hills, diverse geology, and long growing season allows for a highly productive and diverse agricultural industry.
The RCD has been a partner of agriculture since the early 1940s. Beginning from the days following the Dust Bowl, RCDs were established to be the eyes and ears on the ground to support agriculturalists with their most pressing natural resource concerns. These districts were often formed and operated by local farmers and ranchers. Through the decades, the RCD has evolved to serve a diverse array of constituents; however, agriculturalists remain one of the major partners of RCDs across the country.
The Sonoma RCD is committed to equitably serving our agricultural producers. In 2022, in partnership with the California Association of RCDs we secured an NRCS Equity in Conservation Agreement to expand the delivery of conservation assistance to producers who are new to farming, are low-income, identify as one or more marginalized race or ethnicity, and/or are military veterans in our district. Our team is actively collaborating with local partners to better serve our diverse community. We have technical assistance available to farmers and ranchers in Sonoma County who may be concerned about:
As in most of California, water is a valuable commodity in Sonoma County. After our recent four-year drought, we saw some of those affects first hand. Sonoma County has three medium priority groundwater basins, which have suffered from persistent groundwater overdraft conditions and some areas that are threatened by salt water intrusion. Managing surface and groundwater is vital to the health of our communities, wildlife and economy. The RCD has programs and services for farmers needing financial or technical assistance with water conservation on their farms or ranches.
Soil Health and Carbon Farming
Soil health is defined by NRCS as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Healthy soil gives us clean air and water, bountiful crops and forests, productive grazing lands, diverse wildlife, and beautiful landscapes. Carbon farming takes carbon from the atmosphere where it’s a harmful greenhouse gas and puts it into plants and soil where it’s helpful. Farmers act as climate heroes by reviving centuries-old techniques to improve soil health, reduce erosion, save water, and enhance wildlife habitat while increasing the productivity and resilience of their lands. For over 80 years, RCDs have worked with local producers to provide the comprehensive, on-the-ground support that they need to protect and enhance their soils. “Carbon farming practices are management practices that are known to sequester carbon and/or reduce GHG emissions. At least thirty-five of these practices are identified by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as conservation practices that improve soil health and sequester carbon while producing important co-benefits, including: increased soil water holding capacity, hydrological function, biodiversity, and resilience.” Carbon Cycle Institute, 2022. Together, we are building climate resilience for our local food systems and communities.
When natural vegetation is cleared or when farmland is ploughed or overgrazed, the exposed topsoil is susceptible to both wind and water erosion. These natural forces then create only larger erosional issues over time if they are not properly addressed. When farms lose topsoil they are essentially losing their most valuable resource. Soil carried off of agricultural operations via rain or irrigation water can also lead to sedimentation of streams, rivers, lakes and coastal areas. If the banks of our rivers and other waterways are lacking vegetation, soil will be actively lost during storm or flood events. Sedimentation causes serious damage to freshwater and marine habitats, which can directly impact the sensitive species these waterways support. The impacts can also trickle down to our local communities who rely on these water sources as well. The RCD has programs and services for farmers and ranchers who want to find solutions or implement projects that help reduce or prevent erosion on their lands.
Plant nutrients are essential for crop production. It is essential to apply the proper quantities during the appropriate times of the year to help achieve ideal crop yields. However, the improper application of nutrients, especially nitrogen or phosphorus, can cause water quality problems for wildlife and the communities who depend on these water resources. The RCD has programs and services for farmers needing technical assistance with nutrient management practices on their farms or ranches.
In the United States one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. “Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse. Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.” Pollinator Partnership, 2022. Promoting pollinators’ habitat on and near our farms and ranches benefits everyone. RCDs support beneficial practices to support the habitat of pollinators and the endangered Monarch Butterfly.