Farming & Ranching

Welcome Farmers and Ranchers!

The RCD is committed to supporting San Diego’s ever-growing community of Farmers and Ranchers. We equip hard-working stewards of the land with conservation practices known as regenerative agriculture which help to improve farm and ranch productivity. This holistic approach to managing working lands strengthens agricultural businesses while conserving natural resources, reducing the risk of wildfire and adapting to the effects of climate change.

To contact us about agriculture, email If you would like to receive our monthly newsletter, subscribe here.

What is Carbon Farming?

Agriculture is one of the world’s largest land uses and is currently a major contributor 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, prescribed grazing and tree and shrub planting. This suite of well-known, longstanding practices, are used by traditional farmers and ingenious people all over the world. Now, they are referred to as regenerative agriculture or carbon farming because the process regenerates the carbon stored from CO2 that is stored in the soil by plants during photosynthesis. The effect of these practices is increased soil organic matter, which is key to improving many soil functions. 

Carbon farming practices demonstrated many improvements to soil quality, increased nutrient availability, water infiltration, and water retention. Many of these same benefits help make agricultural soils more resilient to the effects of climate change.

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 tons of Carbon Dioxide equivalents (CO2e) per acre per year, which, over the whole ranch, equated to 58,590 tons of CO2e taken out of the atmosphere and stored in the soil for potentially hundreds of years. 58,590 tons 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 tons of CO2e per acre per year, which, over the whole farm, equates to 400 – 500 tons 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. CDFA has requested State funding to provide up to two HSP grant cycles in the next year – stay tuned for updates.

The RCD is currently funded for three demonstration projects:

  1. Prescribed grazing on 749 acres with Angus cattle on the historic Daley Ranch in Jamul
  2. Warm and cool season cover cropping on a 30-acre avocado orchard in Escondido
  3. Four soil management carbon farming practices on vegetable crops in the Tijuana River Valley

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. CDFA has requested State funding to provide up to two SWEEP grant cycles in the next year – stay tuned for updates. 

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.

Orchard Demonstration Project

Cover cropping is the practice of growing certain varieties of plants in between growing areas or seasons in order to protect the soil. A cover crop may be used simply for the benefits it provides, or additionally as a cash crop. At the end of the cycle, the crop can be used for forage, mowed or crimped to add nutrients back to the soil as “green manure”.  We are demonstrating how cover cropping affects soil organic matter, water infiltration, and monitoring cover crop biomass.

Consistent cover cropping over multiple years has been shown to enhance soil quality, including improvements in:

  • soil structure and erosion prevention
  • water infiltration and retention
  • active soil microbial ecosystem and pollination
  • nutrient availability and carbon sequestration

This project is a collaboration between the RCD and an organic Avocado grower in Escondido.

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

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. If you are interested in implementing more pollinator habitat on your working land, check out the Pollinator Habitat Restoration on Working Lands Guide.

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 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 organic matter, water infiltration, and plant stubble height.

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

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

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.

California Rangeland Trust: In partnership with researchers at UC Berkeley, the Rangeland Trust conducted a study of ecosystem services to evaluate the return on investment of rangeland conservation easements.

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.

Pollinator Habitat Restoration on Working Lands: Use this informative guide to learn the co-benefits of pollinator services for working lands, like farms and ranches.

Carbon Farming Plan for Angels Farm 

Carbon Farming Plan for Montado Ranch

NRCS Soil Health Materials

Sources of Funding for Carbon Farming:

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)

Videos of RCD Educational Events:

Ranching with the Seasons: An Ecosystem Perspective – Webinar (December 7, 2021)

Protecting Orchards with Cover Crops – Panel Discussion (July 21, 2021)

Prescribed Grazing to Manage Fire Risk – Panel Discussion (June 16, 2021)

Benefits of Prescribed Grazing – Panel Discussion (October 22, 2020)

Demonstration of Carbon Farming Practices (Fall 2020)

RCD Farmer and Rancher Newsletter


January 2022 – Rain Rain, Don’t Go Away!

February 2022 – Keeping an Ear to the Ground

March 2022 – Spring Safari at Rancho Jamul

April 2022 – Irrigation Support

        May 2022 – The Next Phase of the San Diego Ag Planning Program

 June 2022 – Gathering Around the Grove

July 2022 – Agritourism


Spring 2021 Newsletter – Preparing for a Dry Summer

July 2021 Newsletter – Small Farmers’ Deep Roots

Julio 2021 Gazeta en Español – Pequeños Agricultores

November 2021 – Regional Ag

December 2021 – Stories from the Field


Summer 2020 Newsletter – Interview with Belinda Xu

Fall 2020 Newsletter – Seeds for Bees Recipient