UC awards Brodt $2M to advance soil health, climate-smart farming practices
Regional farms will demonstrate practices such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, compost and mulch use, hedgerow planting, optimized irrigation systems
To accelerate adoption of climate-smart farming practices, the University of California Office of the President has awarded nearly $2 million to a team of UC scientists and community partners working on a network of farm demonstration sites. The project will be led by Sonja Brodt, coordinator for agriculture and environment at the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program. This UC Agriculture and Natural Resources project is one of 38 funded with $83.1 million allocated to UC by the State of California for climate action research and innovation.
Scaling up soil health and other climate-smart agricultural practices to sequester carbon, increase water and nutrient use efficiency, and improve the resilience of farms to climate-related threats like drought and floods is a core pillar identified in California's Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy.
Climate-smart agriculture is a systems-based approach that requires localized adaptation across the diverse soils, cropping systems, socioeconomic and cultural contexts throughout California.
“Our project will strengthen the nascent California Farm Demonstration Network for on-the-ground, regionally specific demonstration of a range of climate-smart practices,” said Brodt. “Regional farms will demonstrate practices such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, compost and mulch use, hedgerow planting, irrigation system optimization and more.”
The $1,999,524 project will pilot a participatory partnership extension model that allows farmers to learn from their peers to reduce adoption risks and adapt knowledge to an ever-changing environment, increasing the likelihood of farmer success and accelerating long-term uptake of complex, place-specific practices.
Building on the capacity of local trusted organizations, project collaborators will be organized in a hub-and-spoke network with three regional Farm Demonstration Hubs (Sacramento Valley, North Coast and Central Coast), a pilot Hmong/Mien Demonstration Hub, and a statewide Organic Demonstration Hub.
Collaborators at each hub will be responsible for identifying and nurturing farm demonstration sites, and conducting demonstration trials and farmer-to-farmer outreach activities. Centralized organization and capacity building will be provided by UC SAREP, UC Organic Agriculture Institute, the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and the California Farm Demonstration Network Advisory Panel.
In addition to several UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists across the state, partners include the UC Hansen Research and Extension Center and the Rodale Institute California Organic Center, both in Ventura County, and the UC Climate Smart Agriculture Program. Eight Resource Conservation Districts will also be involved in leading Farm Demonstration Hubs.
The project will also conduct soil health assessment activities to inform soil health and resilience monitoring protocols in future research and extension efforts. Since many existing soil health metrics were designed for agroecosystems in the Midwest and Eastern U.S., this project aims to lay the groundwork for research to adapt soil health metrics to the arid and Mediterranean climates of California.
“By utilizing relationships built between demonstration hub managers and demonstration farms across different cropping systems, we will gather quantitative and qualitative soil health data, information about growers' management practices as well as their own perspectives of what they really need to know about their soils in order to better manage for climate resilience and mitigation,” said Brodt.
Ultimately, the project partners aim to establish an enduring on-farm extension and research system that will help thousands of farmers adopt climate-smart practices tailored to their farms.
Three other projects involving UC ANR researchers received California Climate Action Seed Grants and Matching Grants subawards:
- Development of a hydrogel that can work as a soil amendment to help small-scale vegetable farms conserve water led by UC San Diego associate professor Shengqiang Cai with Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor and interim director of UC SAREP; Mallika Nocco, UC Cooperative Extension specialist; and Matthew Gilbert, UC Davis professor of whole plant physiology. $297,979
- Development of a tool for predicting climate-water variation led by UC Irvine professor Isabella Velicogna with Tapan Pathak, UC Cooperative Extension specialist. $199,531
- A study of urban stream corridors led by UC Davis professor Gregory Pasternack with Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture and urban forestry advisor. $33,824
This article orginally appeared in UC Agriculture and Natural Resources News.