San Joaquin Valley Farmers Get Support at Cover Crops for California Orchards Workshop - American Farmland Trust

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San Joaquin Valley Farmers Get Support at Cover Crops for California Orchards Workshop

Farmers sit among cover crops and almond trees

Surrounded by thousands of ripening almond trees, about 30 farmers and agricultural professionals attended a Cover Crops for California Orchards workshop at the Gemperle Family Farm in Ceres recently. Attendees heard what three years into a five-year soil health trial were revealing about the economic and environmental benefits of growing cover crops around almond trees.

Thousands of almond trees grown near cover crops, and tents for attendees of event.

The Gemperle’s almond California orchard is part of a national soil health trial conducted by American Farmland Trust and funded by an USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). The trial tests innovative solutions on 15 farms in five states and three geographic regions to overcome regional and crop-specific barriers to cover crop adoption. In California, there are three additional trials with wine grapes, mixed vegetable crops, and processing tomatoes/row crops.

How Soil Health Trials Support Cover Crops

Paul Lum, AFT’s California senior agriculture specialist, reports the trials include collecting soil samples and conducting annual in-field assessments. AFT uses the data to update its Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool, which analyzes farmers’ existing systems and predicts long-term results. To encourage more adoption of cover crops, AFT conducts social indicator studies that examine farmers’ obstacles and challenges. Along with providing financial support such as grants, AFT shares with farmers research findings and provides technical support at events such as the recent Cover Crops for California Orchards workshop.

Farmers listen to Paul Lum talk about cover crop research

“We hope to expand these types of regenerative agricultural practices with research and demonstrations,” Paul explained. “This Cover Crops for California Orchards workshop included a walking tour of the orchard’s fields with and without cover crops, so they could see the difference. A researcher spoke about cover crop species, pollinators, legumes, and plant nutrient availability. Farmers learned about government funding opportunities, as well as AFT’s R-SHEC economic calendar. We want participants to feel inspired by seeing what is possible, as well as how to overcome any obstacles.”

Benefits of Cover Crops in California Orchards

During the walking tour of the orchard, the Gemperles demonstrated their California orchards’ cover crop vigor and how the deep rooting systems improved their soil health. Attendees observed the farm’s soil biological activity, soil moisture levels, competition against weeds, and low levels of soil compaction.

farmers see cover crops in almond orchard in Ceres CaliforniaTanya Gemperle told participants, “Cover crops provide more immediate results like increased infiltration and forage for pollinators, as well as building living, healthy soil in the long-term.”

For farmers just starting out with cover crops, she encouraged, “You can find efficient ways to add cover crops into your faming system. Start small and keep tweaking the system until it works for your individual farm and situation.”

Future Plans to Support Cover Crops

As the soil health trials continue, AFT will continue to spread research and resources to help other farmers adopt cover crops and begin reaping benefits. “We will hold more workshops in multiple regions to reach a greater diversity of farmers and crops in California,” adds Paul. “Our goal is to increase collaborative efforts with other organizations to build awareness and foster more outreach to farmers.”

KCRA-TV in Sacramento

See how planting fast-growing cover crops between orchard rows can save water, reduce pests, and pull carbon from the air to help mitigate climate change in this KCRA-TV interview in Sacramento with Tanya Gemperle and Paul Lum.

Watch Interview

West Coast Nut Magazine

Read how Gemperle Farms uses regenerative agricultural practices to build soil health in West Coast Nut magazine.

Read Article

Soil Health Bottom Line

Learn about AFT’s Soil Health Bottom Line program with resources, farmer profiles, and case studies of farms using regenerative agriculture.

Learn More
About the Author
Teresa O'Connor

California Communications and Outreach Manager

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