Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

New study to reflect conservation benefits from farming in Central Valley

Every year thousands of California farmers work hard to protect the environment while maintaining the state’s enviable status as the Nation’s top agricultural producer.

Farmers establish highly efficient irrigation systems, limit or stop the runoff from their farms, add vegetative strips and hedgerows to catch sediment, lend a patch of space to pollinators and wildlife, practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and adopt practices to build healthy soils that help stop fields and creek banks from eroding.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) enters into conservation contracts with over 2,400 producers each year in the state. Other farmers work with resource conservation districts, industry groups or non-profits, or they undertake conservation completely on their own to comply with the strictest regulations in the nation and fulfill an internal commitment to pass-on the land in better condition than they found it. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours are invested in protecting water, soil, air and wildlife on California farms. And yet, we constantly struggle to tell the story of what farmers are doing to protect natural resources.

With all of this in mind, NRCS California and the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), are collaborating on an extensive survey of approximately 1700 farmers in the Central Valley watershed. The study, called the Conservation Effects Assessment Project or (CEAP), is the largest one ever undertaken in California. NASS surveyors, called enumerators, have just begun to collect data and will continue to do so through next February.

USDA statisticians will use the survey data to populate computer models showing the benefits of conservation practices in use. The models can also simulate the impact of removing current practices or the benefits of targeting and applying additional conservation on the landscape.

This will help us tell our story to those crafting policy or legislation or anyone else who asks, “What has agriculture done for the environment lately?”

The results will also help point up where more assistance is needed and make the case for greater funding in such areas.

Since information is pooled for statistical analysis and modeling, confidentiality for individual landowners is absolute. In fact, in over 17,000 CEAP surveys completed nationwide, there has never been a breach of privacy.

But the project will be scientifically valid only if farmers agree to take their valuable time to participate. This conservation story deserves to be told. We ask farmers and ranchers to please add their voice if NASS comes knocking.

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