Collaborative Project in Sacramento Valley increased outreach, regional cooperation
Note — CDFA will join partners from around California to observe Healthy Soils Week, Dec 4 – 8.
By Linda J. Forbes
Director of Strategic Communications, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
In 2020, agencies and experts in Colusa County came together for a project evaluating winter cover crops (planted in the fall and terminated in late winter or early spring) in annual crop rotations. This project had a large outreach component and various cover crops were planted each year to demonstrate how well they grew in the region.
During the three-year project, the team has significantly increased soil health outreach in the middle Sacramento Valley region and built a strong regional collaboration that continues for other projects. The research findings will be published upon completion of analysis.
Funded by CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program, the collaboration involved measuring changes in soil health between two cover crop treatments and a fallow control and led to innovation in outreach methods to make healthy soil practices more accessible.
Promoting soil health during a pandemic was a major challenge for the project team, comprising Sarah Light, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy farm advisor; Liz Harper, executive director of the Colusa County Resource Conservation District; Davis Ranch; Richter Ag; and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
Unable to conduct in-person field days or workshops, Light and Harper created a YouTube channel called “The Soil Health Connection” and produced 29 episodes in English and five in Spanish. These episodes featured soil health experts from around the state. In addition, field demonstrations were recorded including soil sampling demonstrations, a cover crop field tour, and soil health field assessments following NRCS protocols.
“The collaboration was effective not only in sharing information on how to manage cover crops, but also allowed us to continue to extend knowledge and do outreach during COVID, when regular in-person programming was not available,” Light said.
Interviewees included researchers, farmers, ranchers, industry representatives, technical assistance providers and natural resource conservation agency representatives. The YouTube channel has over 200 subscribers and won the 2021 Conservation Education Award from the California-Nevada Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.
NRCS collaborated on six of the episodes and featured them in their statewide Soil Health newsletter. Participants included Resource Soil Scientist Jacqueline Vega-Pérez, Regional Soil Health Specialist Kabir Zahangir, California Plant Material Director Margaret Smither-Kopperl, Colusa County Soil Conservationist Brandi Murphy, California State Conservationist Carlos Suarez, and USDA Research Soil Scientist Claire Phillips.
Other innovations included hosting a virtual field day with continuing education credits and two drive-by, in-person field tours. The project itself was innovative in terms of conducting virtual and in-person outreach in Colusa County.
“We were one of the first in the region to organize virtual soil health events and because of our strong project team were able to quickly pivot to comply with state and local regulations during the pandemic,” Light said.