Grantee Spotlight: Compost Project in the San Luis Valley

The San Luis Valley of Colorado is an important agricultural area that is under a multitude of threats- both environmental and socio-economic. In an area that receives only 8” of precipitation per year, groundwater is vitally important to the region’s farming economy. While policies have been put in place to regulate groundwater use, the region’s aquifer has been depleted and farmers face restrictions on water use that could devastate the economy of Alamosa and the surrounding area.

In 2018, the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District, Soil Health Services, and the Soil Carbon Coalition came together to create the San Luis Valley Soil Health group with the mission to address the pressing issues facing farmers in the region. Patrick O’Neill, a soil health specialist, volunteers as the group’s coordinator.

In January of last year, Dr. David Johnson gave a presentation to the group about fungal dominant static compost, which has been showing promising results in test plots at New Mexico State University, where Dr. Johnson is a research scientist. This type of compost builds soil health year-over-year with only one initial application, and increases the soil’s ability to retain moisture.

Learn more about Dr. Johnson’s research at New Mexico State University here

After Dr. Johnson’s presentation, 16 local farmers decided to pool financial resources to develop a static compost pile on a large scale. The compost pile is currently in development, with field applications scheduled to start in the fall of 2019. In addition to improving the soil health of the fields where it is applied, the project is designed to be a learning opportunity for farmers, researchers, agencies, and lawmakers interested in soil health.

The New Belgium Family Foundation is partnering with other members of the Southwest Soil Health Funders Network to support this project with a programmatic grant. Together with our collaborators, we feel that this project has the potential to have an out-sized impact on improving economic and ecological farm outcomes in water-scarce climates.

Commercial compost is typically made using the windrow method, where water is mixed with wood chips and straw, then mechanically turned. The process uses a lot of diesel fuel, and the compost has a low microbial and fungal content.

Commercial compost is typically made using the windrow method, where water is mixed with wood chips and straw, then mechanically turned. The process uses a lot of diesel fuel, and the compost has a low microbial and fungal content.

Fungal-dominant static compost is created with a substrate of manure, straw, and woodchips. It is placed on palates so that air can circulate. Tubes are placed throughout the compost for more circulation. The tubes were recently removed and worms were added to the compost.

Fungal-dominant static compost is created with a substrate of manure, straw, and woodchips. It is placed on palates so that air can circulate. Tubes are placed throughout the compost for more circulation. The tubes were recently removed and worms were added to the compost.

The compost is looking good! It will be ready for application in the fall of 2019.

The compost is looking good! It will be ready for application in the fall of 2019.

Grantee Spotlight: Mad Agriculture

The New Belgium Family Foundation is excited to support the work of Mad Agriculture with a three-year general operating grant. Mad Agriculture works with farmers in Boulder County and throughout the Great Plains of Colorado to help them adopt farming practices that will build soil health and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Practices that build soil health include low/no-tillage, cover cropping, compost application, and planting perennials or legumes. Mad Agriculture works directly with farmers to develop customized Carbon Farm Plans.

Our mission is to help farmers and ranchers thrive ecologically and economically. We work on-the-ground with producers to create CFPs (Carbon Farm Plans). We don’t shy away from dreaming big about the ecological, social and economic potential of carbon farming. We are healing landscapes that have been mismanaged and need love, care and stewardship.

As part of the Carbon Farm Planning process, Mad Agriculture is also exploring ways in which farmers can monetize the carbon that is built up and stored in the soil by selling Carbon Removal Credits in the emergent Nori marketplace.

In addition, Mad Agriculture hosts community forums, workshops, and events to build support and awareness around regenerative agriculture and other issues that effect the food system.

Learn more about how farmers can get paid for carbon

Learn more about Carbon Farm Planning

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Mad Agriculture works with farmers to develop Carbon Farming Plans, which build soil health, sequester greenhouse gases, and increase farm productivity

Mad Agriculture works with farmers to develop Carbon Farming Plans, which build soil health, sequester greenhouse gases, and increase farm productivity

Grantee Spotlight: The Nature Conservancy in Colorado Sustainable Grazing Lands Program

We are very excited to support the work of The Nature Conservancy in Colorado’s Sustainable Grazing Lands Program with a three-year general operating grant. Our goal with this grant is to support a pilot program that will be replicated across Colorado and other arid regions in the Intermountain West.

TNC’s Sustainable Grazing Lands program works at the nexus of all three of our areas of focus, Food Systems, Climate, and Land & Water. By helping ranchers in Colorado implement adaptive grazing practices, TNC is working to protect the heritage of ranching in Colorado, improve soil health, regenerate natural grassland habitats, and engage a new generation of ranchers.

Read more about the TNC’s Sustainable Grazing Lands Program in Colorado

TNC’s Sustainable Grazing Lands pilot program will be carried out through the following strategies:

- An smartphone app and online tool called LandPKS that currently measures soil and vegetation will be enhanced to help ranchers monitor evaluate wildlife habitat potential and measure livestock forage utilization on their land.

-Adaptive Management workshops for ranchers will emphasize planning for drought conditions and climate change throughout Colorado, based on a curriculum developed in partnership with Holistic Management International (HMI) while incorporating key elements of holistic management. TNC also plans to offer several workshops outside of Colorado to further the impact of this program.

Read more about TNC’s partnership with HMI

Nick Trainor is the ranch manager at Lowry Ranch. Lowry Ranch was formerly used a missile testing site, and still has many uses. Nick ranges cattle on all 25,400 acres of the ranch. His holistic management techniques have brought back native grassland habitat and improved water retention, leading to better economic outcomes particularly in dry years.  Photo Credit: New Belgium Family Foundation

Nick Trainor is the ranch manager at Lowry Ranch. Lowry Ranch was formerly used a missile testing site, and still has many uses. Nick ranges cattle on all 25,400 acres of the ranch. His holistic management techniques have brought back native grassland habitat and improved water retention, leading to better economic outcomes particularly in dry years.

Photo Credit: New Belgium Family Foundation

William Burnidge (center) manages the Sustainable Grazing Lands program at The Nature Conservancy  Photo Credit: New Belgium Family Foundation

William Burnidge (center) manages the Sustainable Grazing Lands program at The Nature Conservancy

Photo Credit: New Belgium Family Foundation

Riparian area at Lowry Ranch  Photo Credit: Raquel Trainor

Riparian area at Lowry Ranch

Photo Credit: Raquel Trainor

Native grasslands on Lowry Ranch  Photo Credit: Raquel Trainor

Native grasslands on Lowry Ranch

Photo Credit: Raquel Trainor