Farming & Ranching

Dear Farmers and Ranchers, welcome!

We support the San Diego community of hard working stewards of the land through promoting a suite of conservation practices called Carbon Farming practices. Working landscapes are an essential part of our strategy to conserve natural resources, protect against wildfires and the effects of climate change. Read more about what Carbon Farming is and our demonstrating projects. 

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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 that can help capture carbon in the soil instead, such as using compost and mulch, growing cover crops, and planting more trees and shrubs. These practices, and more, are ancient and well-known to many and used by indigenous people all over the world. Now, they are referred to as carbon farming practices because of the fact that CO2 used by the plant’s photosynthesis can be stored in the soil. 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 quantifies the difference one farm can make by implementing carbon-beneficial practices that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and into the farm’s 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 you can expect when you use management practices that sequester carbon and mitigate the effects of climate change. An important benefit is becoming more resilient against the effects of climate change. 

We developed the first two Carbon Farm Plans (CFP) in San Diego County; one for a ranch and one for a row crop system.

CFP for Ranching System

On this 3100 acre property, the CFP concludes that implementing a number of practices, with agroforestry being the most carbon-beneficial, the potential for carbon sequestration was up to 18.9 tonnes of CO2e per acre per year. On the 3100 acre ranch, this is equal 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 manufacturing approximately 3,400 cars

The full Carbon Farm Plan can be found here.

CFP for Row Crop System

The Carbon Farm Plan created for the row crop system is currently being implemented with the help of a grant through the CDFA Healthy Soil Program. The modeled potential for carbon sequestration for this project is 20 – 25 tonnes of CO2e per acre per year. For the whole 20 acre farmed area, this equals to 400 – 500 tonnes of CO2e (equal to manufacturing approximately 26 cars) 

Practices implemented: Legume cover crops, compost application and a 3500 feet hedgerow.

After two years of using compost and cover crops, the soil samples taken shows an increase in organic matter from 1.2% – 4.4%. This is a significant increase!

To read more about the added benefits of the chosen 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 Skjellerdsveen)



Would you like a Carbon Farm Plan?

If you are a farmer or rancher in San Diego County, the RCD can help you access resources to implement carbon farming practices, when funding is available. If you are interested in having a Carbon Farm Plan created for your  land, 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 RCD can help

The RCD of Greater San Diego County, RCDs across the state, and many other organizations 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 stems from the California Healthy Soils Initiative, a collaboration of state agencies and departments to promote 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 improve soil health, sequester carbon and reduce 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 located in the Tijuana River Valley demonstrating four carbon farming practices on cropland, and the other one is located in Jamul, demonstrating prescribed grazing on 749 acres. To find out more about our demonstration projects, please scroll further down on this page to find this section.

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 to Prepare for Future Grant Funding:

Healthy Soils Program:If you are considering applying for this grant in the future, it is important to note that fields (or parts of fields) where you have implemented a conservation practice already (e.g. compost), are ineligible for the same conservation practice. For example, you cannot apply for funding for compost application for that particular area, but you can apply for another conservation practice, like cover crop establishment. 

The timeline for the application process has been different each time the program has been offered, and the program is becoming more competitive. In order to be prepared for a new round of funding, it is important to have a clear plan for your conservation goals. Please reach out for more information.

On the website, you can sign up for email notifications.

The previous application period for HSP funding was February – May 2020. When funding is available, we offer technical assistance for the application process. 

State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program: An important requirement to participate in this program is that you have to have your own well that you use for irrigation. Work is being done to remove this requirement as it excludes many San Diego farmers. 

The project you propose must show that water use decreases and/or energy use decreases. This can be achieved either by updating or replacing your irrigation system, your pumps or installation of solar panels. 

The timeline for the application process is often short. If you are thinking about installing a solar system to power your pumps, it can be a good idea to request a quote to have it ready for a potential future SWEEP application. 

The previous application period for SWEEP funding was November – December 2019. When funding is available, we offer technical assistance for the application process. 


The National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is also providing financial support for producers wanting to implement conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Learn more here. One of the requirements for the application is to have a conservation plan made 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.

Demonstration projects

One way we help farmers learn about carbon farming is through establishing a demonstration carbon farming plot. This project, started 2018, is located on a quarter acre plot at the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden, demonstrates four different carbon farming practices: compost application, mulching, and two types of cover crops. Through a test and control plot for each practice and regular monitoring, we show 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 twice a year – these will be opportunities to learn more about carbon farming, see the practices in action, and chat with other farmers, growers, and 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 demonstrate carbon farming practices in the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden, we added 180 native plants in 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

Grazing has shown to have many beneficial effects on the rangeland ecosystem. In addition to improving the habitat of endemic species, it also helps protect local communities from wildfires. 

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. 

The project is located at Rancho Jamul Ecological reserve, and we are demonstrating how prescribed grazing affects the soil, specifically the content of soil organic matter. 

This Healthy Soils Demonstration Project is funded by the California Climate Investment Program. In collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and 4J Horse and Livestock Co.

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.

This project was started in the fall of 2019. Click here to read more.







Pictures from the left: John Austel participating in water infiltration testing. The herd seen from the horse back (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)