Rural Program Highlights – Fiscal year 2020-2021

Our soil health services were in high demand from small and large farms alike, and the crops produced on those farms include just about everything that can be grown in our area. We provided cover crop seeds and recommendations for how to create long-term soil health and productivity. We chose a variety of types of cover crops based on the farms’ needs, such as reducing soil compaction, increasing organic matter, capturing nutrients, and producing nitrogen.

We served farms in fiscal year 2020-2021 with technical assistance and cover crop seeds for farmers to plant. The types of cover crops varied by farm and were selected based on objectives such as reducing soil compaction, increasing organic matter, nutrient capture, and nitrogen production.

We also worked with farmers to provide fencing for livestock to subdivide fields and better manage grazing. For some farmers, the goal was to improve pastures by preventing overgrazing. Other farmers focused on adding soil nutrients by combining rotational grazing with cover crops plantings. The livestock graze on the cover crops and return nutrients to the soil in the form of manure fertilizer.

Two somewhat new areas of focus for the program, which are highlighted in the updated 2021-2025 Long Range Business Plan, are regenerative farming practices and access to land.

Regenerative farming can be thought of as either an extension of common soil health practices or a means to create soil health. In the past, soil health practices simply focused on giving back to the soil between crop rotations, either through the use of cover crops, the addition of organic material, or both in some cases. For instance, some farms would plant a cash crop, harvest it, plant a winter cover crop, turn it into the soil in the spring, and then plant the next cash crop. Regenerative farming seeks to bring in multiple means of giving back to the soil. Cover crops are still a staple practice, and some farms also implement field rotation with livestock grazing and manure fertilizer. Crop diversity within the field is often a goal as well – planting multiple crops next to one another. On-site composting and application of the compost and compost teas to soil throughout the year is another method. Regenerative farming is all about a diverse and ongoing goal of building soil health.

A major new highlight in the Long-Range Business Plan is developing means to facilitate access to land for individuals or communities for cultural purposes and other local connections, in particular for those who have historically lost land or been denied access to land. The District is currently working with two farms that provide small plots of land for their community members to grow food and medicinal plants and other culturally important crops. We are assisting these farms with funding and technical assistance with conservation practices. In addition, we help with infrastructure improvements that increase land productivity, soil fertility, crop establishment, and help manage pest control and irrigation efficiency and delivery. All of these efforts intend to help improve the ability of farms to provide that access and we hope that the coming months and years bring increased effort for this initiative.