- Author: Shulamit Shroder
Can compost help me with my salt problems?
Increasing soil salinity poses an existential threat to agriculture in many parts of California. Due to decades of irrigation and low rainfall, areas like the Central Valley suffer from increasing salinity in both their soils and their groundwater, resulting in diminished crop yields and contaminated drinking water.
According to the nonprofit Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long Term Sustainability, the Central Valley has already lost 250,000 acres of farmland to salinity problems. Another 1.5 million acres remain in production but suffer decreased yields due to the negative effects of salinity (CV SALTS, 2017). Like us, plants do not appreciate salty drinking water. Most of them can't thrive if the sodium levels in the soil are too high.
However, this area still produces many of the agricultural products upon which we depend, like nuts, fruits, and vegetables. In order to continue farming, producers in these areas must continue to improve their farming practices. One possible way is by applying compost. This can help to mitigate the terrible effects of soil salinity on crop and soil health.
Scientists have studied the use of organic amendments like municipal solid waste as a means of combating soil salinity since the 1980s and ‘90s. In 1994, Israeli researchers reported that not only did applying municipal solid waste compost improve soil stability and plant growth, but also that amending saline soil withboth compost and gypsum increased yields to the level expected from a normal, non-saline field (Avnimelech et al, 1994).
In 2011, scientists in India published their results after 15 years of treating sodic water irrigation with gypsum, farmyard manure, green manure, and wheat straw. The high sodium water they applied caused the soil structure to disintegrate and the water infiltration rate to plummet. However, the organic amendments all mitigated those effects to varying extents. Farmers thus can add both organic amendments and gypsum in order to improve the yield of their salty soils (Choudhary et al, 2011).
So, if you've got salty soil or irrigation water and gypsum alone isn't enough, then applying compost could be another salt-fighting tool to add to your toolbox.
Plus, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will help pay for it through the Healthy Soils Program.
The most recent round of solicitations closed in March 2019, but keep an eye out for future announcements. In the meantime, check out the UCANR climate smart ag page.
Reach out to your closest Community Education Specialist II with any questions and for help applying for the program.
- Avnimelech, Y., Shkedy, D., Kochva, M., & Yotal, Y. (1994). The use of compost for the reclamation of saline and alkaline soils. Compost Science & Utilization, 2(3), 6-11.
- Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-term Sustainability. (2017). CV Salts [pdf]. Retrieved fromhttps://www.cvsalinity.org/docs/committee-document/pubic-education-and-outreach-docs/3963-outreachbrochure-high-resolutionenglish-revised-82718/file.html
- Choudhary, O. P., Ghuman, B. S., Thuy, N., & Buresh, R. J. (2011). Effects of long-term use of sodic water irrigation, amendments and crop residues on soil properties and crop yields in rice–wheat cropping system in a calcareous soil. Field Crops Research, 121(3), 363-372.
- Diacono, M., & Montemurro, F. (2015). Effectiveness of organic wastes as fertilizers and amendments in salt-affected soils. Agriculture, 5(2), 221-230.
- Rao, D. L. N., & Pathak, H. (1996). Ameliorative influence of organic matter on biological activity of salt‐affected soils. Arid Land Research and Management, 10(4), 311-319.
What exactly is climate smart agriculture? The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations coined the term climate smart agriculture as “an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate.” In short, climate smart agriculture addresses how to manage agricultural systems to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population while both building resiliency to climate change and using agriculture as a solution to our climate crisis.
To be effective, climate smart agriculture must meet three main objectives:
1) Increase agricultural productivity and incomes;
2) Adapt to and build resiliency to climate change; and
Climate smart agriculture addresses the risks that agricultural production faces under a changing climate, underscores agriculture's role in solving climate change, and focuses on the importance of intensification of agriculture required to feed a global population.
Agriculture and working lands play a significant role in climate change. According to the EPA's recent inventory, agricultural management practices contribute 8.4% of the United States' greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Interestingly, and encouragingly, agriculture can also act as a greenhouse gas sink by removing atmospheric carbon and storing it in plant tissue and soils. Through effective management, agriculture provides a significant solution to climate change.
California's agricultural industry is at extreme risk to the impacts of climate change. Changes in temperatures, precipitation patterns, extreme weather events, and water availability all pose a threat to the viability of agricultural production. Warming temperatures throughout the state will result in a decline of winter chill hours, increased water demand by crops, and the promotion of various pests. Projections show an increased tendency of heat wave events and an increase in duration and intensity of drought. In addition, California expects to see earlier snowmelt, resulting in increased flooding and a decrease in year-round water availability. This is a doom and gloom scenario we can look forward to unless we decide to act today to plan for tomorrow.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture administers 3 programs to help farmers, ranchers, and dairy operators implement climate smart agriculture practices:
The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) encourages farmers to install more efficient irrigation systems that decrease their water consumption as well as their greenhouse gas emissions. You can apply for a SWEEP grant for up to $100,000.
The Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) awards funds - up to $750,000 - to livestock producers who decrease their methane emissions by changing the way that they manage manure.
The Healthy Soils Program takes a two-pronged approach. For the Incentives Program, there is $75,000 available per project. There is also the option to coordinate with your local resource conservation district or university on a Demonstration Project, which can award up to $250,000 for the research and demonstration of new healthy soils practices. The Healthy Soils Program encourages the implementation of conservation agriculture techniques that decrease erosion and greenhouse gas emissions, like cover cropping, compost, crop rotation, and mulching.
In October 2018, CDFA and the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources agreed to work together to enhance access to information and technical assistance for the state's climate smart initiatives. The ten Community Education Specialists scattered throughout the state can help growers and producers with the grant application process, at no cost to the farmer.
Keep an eye out for future announcements about grant deadlines - they all passed in March and April 2019 but should reopen within the next year, pending further funding.
For more information about these programs and for help applying for these grants, contact your local Community Education Specialist:
|Mendocino||Britta Baskervillefirstname.lastname@example.org||(707) 463-4158|
|Caddie Bergrenemail@example.com||(209) 385-7403|
|Glenn||Dana Bradyfirstname.lastname@example.org||(530) 517-8187|
|Yolo, Solano &
|Emily Lovellemail@example.com||(530) 405-9777|
|Santa Cruz||Valerie Perezfirstname.lastname@example.org||(831) 763-8028|
|Kern||Shulamit Shroderemail@example.com||(661) 868-2168|
|Alli Rowefirstname.lastname@example.org||(805) 645-1464|
|Esther Mosaseemail@example.com||(605) 592-0275|
Climate smart agriculture encompasses management practices that increase soil carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve yields and efficiencies, and promotes climate resilience. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) supports three funding opportunities in climate smart agriculture: the Healthy Soils Program, the State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program, and the Alternative Manure Management Program.
In a collaborative partnership, CDFA and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources have teamed up to support 10 community education specialists throughout the state to provide technical assistance and outreach for the climate smart agriculture programs./table>/span>