The State Healthy Soils Program

Charlie Starr grows wine grapes in San Joaquin County. In the past few years, he has been thinking about how to reduce nutrient leaching to groundwater and agricultural dust in the air. The state Healthy Soils Program helped him put his thoughts into action, providing him with the financial incentives to implement conservation management practices on his farmland. His project includes “Cover Crop” and “Reduced-Till.”

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According to Starr, tilling only every other row of the 96-acre vineyard reduces the release of particulates into the air, decreases water erosion during heavy rain events, and lowers fuel consumption and GHG emissions. It also builds soil organic matter.

Growing cover crops helps hold nutrients to the soil/plants and reduces water runoff, which minimizes nutrient leaching to the groundwater. Cover Cropping also helps reduce the amount of non-organic chemical additives and increases vegetative cover which will aid in the reduction of carbon dioxide in the air.

Combining reduced-till and cover cropping will improve soil health and increase biodiversity, which makes the production system more sustainable. Most importantly, both practices help improve water and air quality in the Central Valley.

The three-year project will allow for testing Starr’s hypotheses while providing the opportunity to establish the economic viability of these practices over the long term. He is contemplating moving to a no-till practice, with the crop reseeding itself. If the measures are deemed successful in the short-term, they will be built into the practices and budgets for future years for his vineyards, and for any future vineyard development.