Over the past twenty years, RCDMC and USDA NRCS have collaborated to provide winter road and furrow covercropping and alignment assistance to the many small-scale, Hispanic berry-growing farmers that work on the hilly and highly erodable lands of north Monterey County Without careful management, farmed lands on steep slopes can produce dramatic runoff and erosion that inundates downslope properties, roads, and waterways. This program provides erosion control planning in Spanish and English and subsidized cover crop seed to low-income producers with hilly farmland. The Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner currently funds the program that continues to have high community interest. After two decades the need remains great despite years of successful work due to the realities of short-term leases and financial pressures. In short, there’s still a lot of ground to cover.
The key non-engineered practices for which this program provides technical and partial financial assistance includes row arrangement for strawberry growers farming on sloped ground (site specific recommendations on the direction and slope beds should be listed to reduce soil erosion), furrow cover crops to establish selected grass varieties in the strawberry furrows to increase infiltration, reduce sediment loss and suppress weed pressure, and grassed farm roads to reduce soil loss on sloped ground. Key engineered practices for which the program will guide cooperators to USDA NRCS technical and financial support programs will include water and sediment control basins, gully stabilization, and underground outlets to improve management of winter storm runoff on already damaged or uniquely challenging sites.
This program improves water quality by reducing the transport of nonpoint source nutrients, sediment and attached pollutants (e.g., pesticides and nutrients) to local waterways. During the past two decades, intensive outreach and technical support efforts from the RCDMC and the NRCS have succeeded in reaching a majority of the more than 250 agricultural producers in the watershed. We estimate that over 35% of the annual sedimentation load to Elkhorn Slough is now prevented by implementation of the above-mentioned voluntary soil conservation practices on private land.
The Winter Preparedness Program places particular emphasis on meeting needs of the region’s historically underserved Hispanic farming community, which constitutes eighty percent of the farmers in the Elkhorn Slough watershed. The RCDMC, USDA NRCS and the Ag Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) have long partnered to provide bi-lingual training, demonstration, and implementation support in the region. Other project partners include the Elkhorn Slough Foundation (ESF) andthe Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine and Research Reserve (ESNERR).