California's
Healthy Soils
Initiative

California's Healthy Soils Initiative is a collaboration of state agencies and departments, led by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to promote the development of healthy soils. A combination of innovative farm and land management practices contribute to building adequate soil organic matter that can increase carbon sequestration and reduce overall greenhouse gases.

Why Soils?

Improve plant health
and crop yields*

Soil organic matter suppresses disease organisms and increases plant nutrient availability and uptake.

Increase water retention
and infiltration*

Healthy soil can hold up to 20 times its weight in water. Increasing soil organic matter 1% can increase soil available water holding capacity by 3.7%.

Prevent erosion and reduce
sediment and dust*

Soil organic matter helps build soil aggregate stability and structure and make it more resistant to wind or water erosion.

Sequester carbon and reduce
greenhouse gas emissions*

Soils contain approximately 75% of the carbon pool on land—three times more than the amount stored in living plants and animals.

Improve
water quality*

Increasing soil organic matter increases infiltration and biological activity that make soil a more effective filter.

Improve biological diversity
and wildlife habitat*

At least a quarter of the world’s biodiversity lives in the soil; healthy soils improve habitats and other natural resources.

* Click to see supporting research

By the Numbers

1% increase in organic matter results in as much as 25,000 gallons of available soil water per acre.
1.2 billion tons of carbon is sequestered by global soils annually.
4  years is the average amount of time it takes for a farmer to build soil organic matter by adopting conservation practices.

NRCS Steps to Soil Health

Reduce soil disturbance

Soil disturbance can be the result of physical, chemical or biological activities. Physical soil disturbance, such as tillage, results in bare and/or compacted soil that is destructive and disruptive to soil microbes, and it creates a hostile environment for them to live. Misapplication of farm inputs can disrupt the symbiotic relationships between fungi, other microorganisms, and plant roots.

Diversify Soil Biota

A diverse and fully functioning soil food web provides for nutrient, energy, and water cycling that allows a soil to express its full potential. Increasing the diversity of a crop rotation and cover crops increases soil health and soil function, reduces input costs, and increases profitability.

Keep a Living Root Growing Throughout the Year

Healthy soil is dependent upon how well the soil food web is fed. Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them cycle nutrients that plants need to grow. Sugars from living plant roots, recently dead plant roots, crop residues, and soil organic matter all feed the many and varied members of the soil food web.

Keep the Soil Covered as Much as Possible

Soil cover conserves moisture, reduces temperature, intercepts raindrops (to reduce their destructive impact), suppresses weed growth, and provides habitat for members of the soil food web that spend at least some of their time above ground.

What is CA Doing?

Funding

Funding for improving soil health is available on both the state and federal level. Click the images to find out more.

Local Resources

Click the images to find a local NRCS or RCD office near you.