Farming & Ranching

Dear Farmers and Ranchers, Welcome!

The RCD is committed to supporting San Diego’s ever-growing community of Farmers and Ranchers. Through a Carbon Farming suite of conservation practices, we are providing hard working stewards of the land with tools that can help improve the productivity of their farms and ranches. Supporting working landscapes in this way conserves natural resources, and protects against wildfires and the effects of climate change.


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What is Carbon Farming?

Agriculture is one of the world’s biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Farming techniques, such as tilling, tractor use, chemical fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide application, bare soil, and over-grazing, release carbon into the atmosphere at high rates. 

However, there are alternative land management practices that can help capture carbon in the soil, such as compost and mulch application, cover crops, and tree and shrub planting. This suite of well-known, longstanding practices, are used by ingenious people all over the world. Now, they are referred to as carbon farming because of the carbon in CO2 that is stored in the soil by the plant’s photosynthesis. The effect of these practices is increased soil organic matter, which is key to improving many soil functions. 

Carbon farming practices have shown to produce benefits, like increased nutrient availability, improved water infiltration, and improved water holding capacity in the soil – leading to greater water efficiency.

The Carbon Farm Plan

A Carbon Farm Plan (CFP) quantifies the difference one farm can make by implementing carbon-beneficial practices that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere put them into soils and plant biomass. Creating a CFP provides a farmer or rancher with a future vision and path to increase farm fertility and productivity. It is a tool that outlines the potential of management practices that sequester carbon, mitigate the effects of climate change, and become more resilient. 

We developed the first two CFPs in San Diego County: one for a ranch (Santa Ysabel, CA) and one for a row crop system (Campo, CA).

CFP for a Ranching System

The CFP for 3,100 acre range land property concludes that the implementation of multiple practices, with agroforestry being the most carbon-beneficial, can have significant benefits. Specifically, the potential for carbon sequestration is up to 18.9 tonnes of CO2e per acre per year, which, over the whole ranch, equated to 58,590 tonnes of CO2e taken out of the atmosphere and stored in the soil for potentially hundreds of years. 58,590 tonnes of CO2e is equal to the manufacture of approximately 3,400 cars. 

The full Carbon Farm Plan can be found here.

CFP for a Row Crop System

The Carbon Farm Plan created for the row crop system is currently in implementation and can be partially attributed to the financial support of the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soil Incentives Program. The lead farmers at Angel’s Farm are implementing legume cover crops, compost application, and a 3500-foot hedgerow of native pollinator plants. The modeled potential for carbon sequestration for this project is 20 – 25 tonnes of CO2e per acre per year, which, over the whole farm, equates to 400 – 500 tonnes of CO2e. For reference, this is equivalent to the manufacture of approximately 26 cars.

After two years of compost application and cover croppings, soil sampling shows an increase in soil organic matter from 1.2% to 4.4% which is is a significant increase!

To read more about these carbon farming practices, take a look at the Angel’s Farm Carbon Farm Plan.

The family-owned Angel Farm in Campo CA. They received funding from CDFA through the Healthy Soils Program to implement three carbon farming practices, namely; compost application, cover crops and a hedgerow. (photo: Martina Skjellerudsveen)



Would You Like a Carbon Farm Plan?

If you are a farmer or rancher in San Diego County, the RCD can help you to access resources or implement carbon farming practices, when funding is available. If you are interested in having a Carbon Farm Plan created for your agricultural operation, we would like to hear from you. Please fill out this questionnaire or contact us directly if you are interested in learning more!

How the Resource Conservation District Can Help

Many organizations, including the RCD of Greater San Diego County along with RCDs across the state, are working to help farmers and ranchers implement carbon farming practices on their land. We can help you apply for grants that are available for implementing these practices. We are also involved in a carbon farming task force, consisting of local organizations and agencies in the County, to find collaborative approaches to creating healthier soil and helping San Diego County meet its GHG emission reduction targets. We offer technical assistance for CDFA funding programs and have two CDFA demonstration projects that showcase carbon farming practices.

What is the CDFA HSP?

The Healthy Soils Program (HSP) stems from the California Healthy Soils Initiative, a collaboration of state agencies and departments tasked with promoting the development of healthy soils on California’s farmlands and ranch lands. 

The HSP has two components: the HSP Incentives Program and the HSP Demonstration Projects. The HSP Incentives Program provides financial assistance for implementation of conservation management that improves soil health, sequesters carbon and reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The HSP Demonstration Projects showcase California farmers and rancher’s implementation of HSP practices. 

The RCD is currently involved in two demonstration projects. One is demonstrating four soil management carbon farming practices on Tijuana River Valley cropland, and the other one is demonstrating prescribed grazing on 749 acres in Jamul. To find out more about our demonstration projects, please scroll further down on this page to find this section.

To learn more about the CDFA Healthy Soils Program click here to read a interview with Belinda Xu, a HSP grant recipient.

What is the CDFA SWEEP?

The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) provides financial assistance in the form of grants to implement irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on California agricultural operations. Eligible system components include (among others) soil moisture monitoring, drip systems, switching to low pressure irrigation systems, pump retrofits, variable frequency drives and installation of renewable energy to reduce on-farm water use and energy. 

Useful Tips When Applying for California Department of Food and Agriculture Grant Programs

NRCS Funding – EQIP and CSP

The National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is also providing financial support for producers who want to implement conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Learn more here. One of the requirements for the application is to have a conservation plan written by the local NRCS staff. For questions contact Axel Sanchez or Celine Morales at the San Diego NRCS office. They are accepting applications throughout the year. Here is a link for “how to apply”.

If you have completed your conservation projects through EQIP, you may be eligible for the next tier conservation program called the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Carbon Farming Demonstration Projects

The best way to see how Carbon Farming practices work in a real-world setting is through demonstration projects. We currently have three projects we are monitoring to track results and share them with farmers and ranchers.

Row Crop Demonstration Project

We have been helping farmers to learn about carbon farming through the establishment of a demonstration carbon farming plot. This project, begun in mid-2018, is located on a quarter-acre plot at the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden, and demonstrates four different carbon farming practices: compost application, mulching, legume cover crops, and non-legume cover crops. Through a test and control plot for each practice and also regular monitoring, we are highlighting how these practices can positively impact soil quality, crop yields, cost savings, and the environment – even on a small scale. We host field days for local farmers biannually– these opportunities allow all to learn more about carbon farming, see the practices in action, and chat with producers, educators, and visitors to the plot.ranchers. 

Click here to see results from soil sampling and crop yields.

This Healthy Soils Demonstration Project is funded by the California Climate Investment Program. 

Hedgerow Project

To further demonstrate carbon farming practices at the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden, we added 180 native, pollinator plants in January 2018, along the west side of the garden to create a hedgerow. Hedgerows are dense shrubs or woody vegetation planted along field edges or fence lines to attract beneficial wildlife, provide a food source for pollinators, decrease wind speeds, and improve plant yields. The plants in this hedgerow were selected for their ability to thrive in our climate and soil types, as well as their differing bloom times. This supports pollinators by ensuring a constant source of nectar. 

Prescribed Grazing Demonstration

Prescribed grazing is the practice of removing vegetation with grazers or browsers with the intent to achieve specific ecological, economic, and management objectives. It is a practice that improves forage for animal health and productivity. Grazing has shown to have many beneficial effects on the range land ecosystem. In addition to improving the habitat of endemic species, it also helps protect local communities from the increasingly severe and frequent effects of climate change, including wildfires, drought and flooding.

Grazing has shown to have many beneficial effects on the range land ecosystem. In addition to improving the habitat of endemic species, it also helps protect local communities from the increasingly severe and frequent effects of climate change, including wildfires, drought and flooding.This Healthy Soils Demonstration Project is funded by the California Climate Investment Program. This project is a collaboration between rancher John Austel, owner of 4J Horse and Livestock and Tracie Nelson, South San Diego Reserve Manager of California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is located at Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve (Jamul, CA), and we are demonstrating how prescribed grazing affects the soil organize matter, water infiltration, and plant stubble height.

This project began in September 2019. Click here to read more.




Pictures from the left: John Austel, Owner of 4J Horse & Livestock Company, participating in water infiltration testing. The herd seen from horseback (Photo: J. Austel). John and Dr. Chandra Richards, Conservation Ecologist, RCD (Photo: Martina Skjellerudsveen).


Carbon Farming Resources:

Carbon Cycle Institute (CCI)CCI works to advance carbon cycle solutions: working models of alternative practices, technologies and economic value chains that can produce food, fiber, and flora in ways that improve the environment and are climate- and carbon-beneficial.

Marin Carbon Project: Seeks to enhance carbon sequestration in rangeland, agricultural, and forest soils through applied research, demonstration and implementation in Marin County.

Community Garden Hedgerow: We have created a chart to list the plants in the hedgerow at the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden, as well as their bloom period and flower color.

Carbon Farming Plan for Angels Farm 

Carbon Farming Plan for Montado Ranch

Useful links:

Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) 

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soils Incentives Program (HSP)