Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

USDA study reveals that conservation practices reduced carbon footprint

USDA NRCS News Release

A new Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction study reveals that from 2004 to 2018, more than 367,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents were sequestered or GHGs reduced by installing NRCS working lands conservation practices on farm, ranch, or forest land.

“The average carbon footprint of a Californian is 9.256 metric tons of CO2 per year ,” says Carlos Suarez, State Conservationist for NRCS in California. “NRCS conservation practices applied by California agricultural producers completely offset the annual carbon footprint of 39,650 Californians. Utilizing another metric, these voluntary working lands actions by farmers and ranchers sequester carbon in healthy soils and offset greenhouse gas emissions of more than 79,000 typical passenger vehicles collectively driven nearly a million miles in a year.”

For more than 85 years, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helped farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners with their conservation technical assistance. What started as soil erosion control, turned into so much more for our natural resources. Since 2004, NRCS worked to deploy soil health conservation practices on more than 2 million acres of California farm and ranch lands.

“Thanks to our collaboration with NRCS, California agriculture is a leader in innovation and climate-smart agriculture,” said Karen Ross, California Secretary of Agriculture.  “These numbers show the power of partnership with farmers and ranchers to implement voluntary incentive-based practices supported by sound science and on-the-ground technical assistance!”

The carbon study and an NRCS tool called “COMET” were discussed today by Dr. Adam Chambers, National Environmental Leader for NRCS West National Technology Support Center, at the virtual California Rangeland Summit. 

“COMET is the premier tool that farmers and ranchers can use to calculate carbon and greenhouse gases sequestered when they use certain conservation practices,” said Dr. Chambers.

Whether it’s conservation technical assistance or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, NRCS has a lot of options to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. In this study, 28 different conservation practices were analyzed for benefits.

Four noteworthy conservation practices 

  • Composting: effective long-term method for building soil fertility in organic production systems.
  • Cover cropping: grasses, legumes, and forbs for seasonal cover and other conservation purposes.
  • Pollinator hedgerows: establishing wildlife habitat by planting herbaceous vegetation or shrubs.
  • No till: limiting soil disturbance to manage the amount, orientation, and distribution of crop and plant residue on the soil surface.

NRCS conservation practices demonstrate how working lands agriculture can voluntarily reduce emissions and become a climate solution. Soil Health co-benefits, through implementation of soil health practices, include water capture and increased availability, nutrient cycling with reduced inputs, pollinator and wildlife habitat, break up pest cycles, sustained crop production under extreme weather events.

California farmers and ranchers are part of the climate change solution. Partnerships at the federal, state, and local levels are working on this together for agricultural resilience. For more information about conservation technical assistance, how to apply for Farm Bill and program eligibility, interested applicants should contact a NRCS field office in the county which land is owned or operated.

Visit to find local NRCS representatives.

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