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American Farmland Trust and USDA NRCS Release New Example of Soil Health Practices Increasing California Almond Orchard Profitability

Rogers Almonds case study demonstrates economic and environmental benefits of soil health efforts, helps create library of on-farm examples for use throughout state and nation

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Today, American Farmland Trust, the organization behind the national movement No Farms No Food®, is releasing a new “Accelerating Soil Health” case study about the Rogers Orchard in Madera, California. This study is among four examples from Illinois, Ohio and New York farmers, which add to four studies released in July 2019 that included the Okuye Farm in Merced. The growing library of compelling and easy-to-read two-page case studies is designed to assist farmers curious about soil health and technical service providers who want to help farmers adopt soil health practices. This work continues to show that healthier soil on farmland brings economic benefits to farmers and environmental benefits to society. The case studies were developed in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service under a Conservation Innovation Grant.

There is widespread recognition that adopting soil health practices such as cover crops, no-till and strip-tillage, nutrient management, mulching and compost application are critical to improving farming’s environmental outcomes, improving air quality, strengthening water resilience and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Yet farmers often hesitate to adopt these methods, because they fear the financial risk of trying something new and the risk of investment on leased lands. They aren’t certain how much these investments will cost and can’t confirm the benefits.

NRCS State Conservationist Carlos Suarez says, “When it comes to conservation, producers have the know how to make decisions based on what makes the most sense for their farm and ranch operations.  The Conservation Innovation Grant improves our ability to recognize such case studies as the Rogers and Okuye Farms that provide valuable information on the economic benefits of using soil health management systems.”

Kara Heckert, AFT’s California Regional Director, says, “American Farmland Trust is making it easier for farmers to adopt these climate-smart agricultural methods by providing evidence for the economic benefits of these practices. We’re providing models for implementation to support widespread adoption and rapid realization of benefits for farmers and residents across the state. AFT is achieving this by finding ‘soil health successful farmers’ in California, such as the Rogers and Okuye Farms, and with their permission conducting a benefit-cost analysis of their soil health journey.”

The results have been impressive for the Rogers’ 175-acre almond orchard with sandy loam soil on flat terrain. By adopting nutrient management, cover crops, mulching and compost applications, the farm reported improved soil tilth, better water infiltration and water holding capacity along with an increase in beneficial insects leading to decreased costs for pesticides (72%), fertilizer (55%), and irrigation (25%).

Quantitative evidence shows soil health practices at Rogers Orchard achieved increased incomes an average of $991 per acre and by $173,345 for the whole farm providing a 553% return on investment.

Almond grower, Tom Rogers says, “Our trees are more productive, the soil is healthier and the orchard is providing environmental benefits like better local air and water quality and lower climate emissions. My philosophy is simple, take care of the soil and it will take care of the trees.”

Yield and Climate Results:

  • Almond yields improved 10% on the Rogers orchard due to improved soil health
  • Greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 29% according to USDA’s COMET-farm Tool

These are comparable results to a case study released by AFT in July 2019 featuring Ralf Sauter of Okuye Farms in Merced. That almond farm experienced a 20% yield improvement due to its soil health practices and improved its bottom line by $657 per acre and by $76,155 on all 116 orchard acres by adopting practices such as nutrient management, conservation cover, mulching and compost application. This provided a 198% return on Sauter’s investment in these soil health practices.

AFT hopes conservation partners at NRCS, Resource Conservation Districts, and Extension, plus partners in the private sector (corporations with supply chain sustainability goals, ag retailers, crop consultants, etc.) use these case studies with their customers to help answer questions about the costs and benefits of adopting soil health practices.

AFT will be hosting online webinars to offer trainings to fellow conservationists and farmers who want to learn how to conduct the partial budget economic analysis used in this project. Please email SHTraining@farmland.org with your interest in the training webinars.

For more information contact American Farmland Trust, California Project Manager Paul Lum at plum@farmland.org or 707-480-1893 or Acting Public Affairs Director Victor Hernandez at (530) 792-5628.

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American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advancing environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) mission is “Helping People Help the Land.” NRCS helps America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.

About the Author
Teresa O'Connor

California Communications and Outreach Manager

toconnor@farmland.org

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