Dixon Ridge Farm in Winters, California, proved a picture perfect setting for more than 50 conservation partners to gather beneath the shade of Russ Lester’s walnut trees Friday, May 5.
They were there to witness a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) pledging the joint resources of state, federal, university, conservation district and Farm Bureau partners to build a farm demonstration network to keep California farmers on the forefront of soil health and other innovations to achieve sustainability and global competitiveness
State Conservationist Carlos Suarez signed the MOU for NRCS. He was joined by Karen Ross, secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture; Paul Wenger, president of California Farm Bureau Federation; Ron Tjeerdema, associate dean, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; Glenda Humiston, vice president, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Karen Buhr, executive director of California Association of Resource Conservation Districts.
“The time is now to move the needle on soil health and resiliency,” said Suarez. “The current confluence of conditions are bringing a critical mass of partners to the table, making all our contributions more meaningful and more powerful,” he said. Suarez said that the need to regenerate the soil is intersecting with issues like water scarcity, carbon emissions, groundwater quality, labor availability, and air quality. “This partnership is necessary for the long-term viability of farming in California,” said Suarez.
Russ Lester opened the event describing his 35 years of farming innovations—including the foot-tall cover crop in the orchard encircling the event space. Lester credited other farm demonstration networks (like BIOS) for gaining insights into pest control, irrigation, soil health, and organic systems. Dixon Ridge Farms are also carbon negative due to management and an on-farm pyrolytic gasification plant that turns walnut shells into energy.
Karen Buhr provided an opening address and Betsy Karle, UC Cooperative Extension in Glenn County, spoke of that county’s demonstration network which received the 2016 Conservation Innovation Award from NRCS.
Prior to the signing, Zahangir Kabir and Tony Rolfes provided live demonstration of the rainfall simulator and the slake test, giving visual evidence of how healthy soils stay intact and functional following rainfall—protecting both the fertility of the soil and the quality of the water.
Organizers of the California Farm Demonstration Network will create opportunities to connect local people, to showcase existing farmer innovations and evaluate outcomes. Additional farm-demonstration hubs throughout the state are anticipated.