WHAT IS CLIMATE SMART FARMING?
Climate Smart Farming (CSF) refers to farming practices or systems that mitigate and adapt to climate change by reducing GHG emissions, sequestering carbon in the soil and plant biomass and conserving natural resources like water and topsoil. Climate smart farming highlights the nexus between farm productivity and resilience, conservation of natural resources and climate change adaptation and mitigation. For example, increasing soil organic matter can result in more productive fields that are more resilient to pest and disease pressure, conserve water through improved water holding capacity and infiltration, address climate change through soil carbon sequestration and can make farms more resilient to drought and flooding. While individual CSF practices provide important entry points into climate smart farming, the broader goal of CSF is to take a systems approach and see every farm and ranch as a unique agroecosystem.
We facilitate farmer-to-farmer exchange and extension that focuses on knowledge-sharing among farmers and technical assistance providers.
Benefits of Ecological Farming
Water holding capacity
Soil microbial ecology
Soil fauna (earthworms!)
Pest & disease resistance
Enhanced nutrient cycling
Soil organic matter
Reduced GHG emissions
Reduced nitrate leaching
Resilience to disease
Drought & weather resilience
Improved productivity & yield
Ecological farming is not a single practice nor is it part of a rigid methodology. Rather, it’s a holistic approach that includes a suite of practices that farms and ranches can employ based on their own unique needs and circumstances to help build soil health, steward our natural resources, sequester carbon and better adapt to a fast-changing climate.
A few key ecological practices include the following:
Farmscaping involves planting perennials including tree crops and vines, hedgerows, riparian buffer zones, vegetative filter strips, tailwater ponds, and insectary plantings on-farm. These plantings can help increase biodiversity of flora and fauna while offering additional benefits to the farm and providing ecosystem services to the surrounding environment.
A cover crop is a “non-economic” crop planted to benefit the soil and subsequently the cash crop by providing a host of benefits to the farm and ecosystem. Cover crops improve soil health, reduce erosion, runoff, and compaction, supply nutrients for the cash crop, suppress weeds and provide habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators. They can be planted in both annual and perennial cropping systems–as part of a row crop rotation, or between perennial crops like nut trees or vineyards. In California, cover crops are most commonly grown over the winter months, and commonly include legumes, grasses and brassicas.
Crops and livestock have historically been integrated in farming systems. While a trend towards specialization of single crops over the past century has made it rare, more and more farmers are rediscovering the benefits of this diversification. By integrating livestock into cropping systems, the whole farm nutrient balance of imports and exports—fertility in, yields out—becomes more even. Integrating livestock can replace certain labor operations such as mowing, provide enhanced carbon and nitrogen cycling, build organic matter, help with disease suppression and amplify the benefits of cover crops. There are many different types of crop livestock integrated systems–sheep in vineyards, pasture poultry rotations after row crop harvest, cattle in olive orchards–and they all (when managed well) result in healthier crops and livestock.
Biointensive No-till integrates a number of climate smart practices, including minimizing soil disturbance. While traditional tillage is effective for weed control and loosening compacted soil, it breaks up the soil’s natural structure and exposes the most nutrient-rich layer of the soil to oxygen, resulting in the loss of nutrients and carbon. In biointensive no-till systems, minimal disturbance combined with additions of organic material to the soil (such as compost, cover crops or crop residues) results in a healthy soil ecosystem of microorganisms (or microbes) and macrofauna that enhances nutrient cycling, carbon storage, resilience to drought and a host of other benefits to the farm and ecosystem.
Compost can offer a major boon to soil health by supercharging soil biology while improving soil structure and providing crops with essential nutrients that are steadily made available. As soil structure improves, added benefits like improved water retention, less runoff, and better tilth are seen in many of our soils here in California. By recycling materials and the energy stored in them, compost helps to close energy loops for more sustainable production, and at the same time stores carbon in the ground. Many of our project partners have integrated compost into their farms as part of a suite of Climate Smart friendly practices that stack farm and ecosystem benefits.
DIG INTO ECOLOGICAL FARMING
Want to find out more about the benefits and tradeoffs of integrating sheep into orchard systems? Check out our newest case study on Sierra Orchards
The Biologically Integrated Orchard Systems (BIOS) project was a collaboration between CAFF, farmers, pest control and crop advisors, and the UC Cooperative Extension in the
Sara oversees CAFF’s Climate Smart Farming program, which works with farmers, researchers and other agencies to investigate and promote climate smart practices throughout California. For years, Sara has worked to promote sustainable agriculture both in the classroom and in the field, and has a passion for connecting the two. She has graduate degrees from University of California, Davis, in Soils and Biochemistry and International Agricultural Development, and has a background in international development work.
sara[at]caff.org | 530-756-1298
Emily has lived and worked in agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, Bay Area, and Spain, and is ardent about promoting regenerative farming practices and strengthening local food systems. She holds a graduate degree in Organic Agriculture from the University of Barcelona and studied Sustainable Agriculture at CSU Stanislaus in Turlock.