ECOLOGICAL FARMING

We work with farmers, policy makers, researchers, and local technical assistance providers to promote, improve and better understand the adoption of the ecological farming throughout California.

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.

ON-THE-GROUND PROJECTS

We conduct on-the-ground projects to bring together science and farmer experience to build better understanding around ecological best practices.

POLICY

We advocate for state funding that directs resources to farmers to implement ecological and climate smart practices as well as to programs that promote their adoption.

FARMER-TO-FARMER

We facilitate farmer-to-farmer exchange and extension that focuses on knowledge-sharing among farmers and technical assistance providers.

RESEARCH

We dig into the research and practice of ecological and climate smart farming to develop and share resources for the California agricultural community.

Benefits of Ecological Farming

Water holding capacity

Increased infiltration

Soil microbial ecology

Soil fauna (earthworms!)

Pest & disease resistance

Enhanced nutrient cycling

Soil structure

Soil organic matter

Carbon sequestration

Reduced erosion

Reduced GHG emissions

Reduced nitrate leaching

Resilience to disease

Drought & weather resilience

On-farm biodiversity

Improved productivity & yield

PRACTICES

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.

VISIT OUR HEDGEROW & FARMSCAPING PAGE >>>

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.

VISIT OUR COVER CROPS PAGE >>>

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.

VISIT OUR INTEGRATED CROP / LIVESTOCK PAGE >>>

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.

VISIT OUR BIOINTENSIVE NO-TILL PAGE >>>

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.

VISIT OUR COMPOST PAGE >>>

ON-THE-GROUND PROJECTS

Working directly with farmers, we conduct on-farm trials to implement and investigate targeted climate smart farming practices and systems. Through annual soil data collection and continuous collaboration with our farming partners, we bring together the science behind climate smart farming with farmer experience to learn, innovate and optimize climate smart farming practices and systems in different management systems, climates and soil types across the state.

Biointensive No-till

Small scale, no-till, highly productive, ecological farming systems.
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Cover Crops

Keeping the water where it falls, building soil health, improving long-term farm productivity and resiliency.
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Integrated Crop/Livestock Systems

Closing the loop by bringing livestock back into perennial and annual cropping systems. Learn more about this project.
LEARN MORE

DIG INTO ECOLOGICAL FARMING

Sara Tiffany
Senior Manager, Climate Smart Farming

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 Buerer
Program Coordinator, Climate Smart Farming

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. 

emily[at]caff.org    |    530-576-1298