Agriculture, Land Protection, Stewardship

Partner Profile: University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE)

March 14, 2022

To advance our work to further steward lands already protected by agricultural conservation easements, MALT often partners closely with the Marin office of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) service.

The UCCE’s mission is to sustain Marin’s vital agriculture, environment, and communities by providing research-based information in agriculture, natural resource management, healthy living, and youth development. UCCE occupies a distinctive space—belonging simultaneously to the county and to the University of California (UC) system—and uses practical “applied research” to solve real-world problems.

UCCE’s Research Roots Run Deep

The Cooperative Extension system began in the mid 1800’s, when President Abraham Lincoln signed laws providing each state with grants of federally-controlled land to establish “land-grant” colleges and universities. The focus of a land grant institution is on education and research for things like practical agriculture, science, and engineering—in other words, providing expertise to address real-world issues.

The University of California system is the state’s land grant institution, with UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and UC Riverside designated as official land grant universities. Cooperative Extension is the local county portion of the land grant program.

“We serve local needs and local problems. We ask, how can we reach back to the university campuses and find expertise that is relevant to a particular unsolved problem? And how can we find academics who might be able to conduct research to address those problems?”

David Lewis, Director of UCCE in Marin

Partners in Marin’s Range of Agricultural Support Organizations

“In Marin, we’re fortunate to have a wonderful fabric of organizations working to support agriculture throughout the county,” said David. “Ever since I came to Marin as UCCE director in 2009, MALT has been a vital part of that fabric.”

David explained that all the organizations working to support agricultural operations in Marin cooperate and coordinate their efforts. “We work to understand each other’s strengths and missions and complement each other,” he said. “Depending on the issue, we identify who will take the lead and who will provide support in each instance.”

“We work to understand each other’s strengths and missions and complement each other.”

David Lewis, UCCE

For example, when MALT first introduced its stream conservation easements, David and the UCCE staff reviewed drafts and helped create final language for those easements. UCCE also works closely with MALT’s stewardship team on livestock pond water use and monitoring programs. UCCE and MALT frequently collaborate on projects with other local organizations such as the Marin Resource Conservation District (Marin RCD). “And we’re deeply partnered on the Marin Carbon Project,” he added.

Marin Carbon Project: Putting Climate Goals in Action

The Marin Carbon Project (MCP) is a consortium of independent agricultural institutions in Marin County that includes university researchers, county and federal agencies, and nonprofits. Both MALT and UCCE are active partners in MCP, and Ladi Asgill, MALT’s Director of Science and Regenerative Agriculture, is on the steering committee.

“Since its founding in 2007, the Marin Carbon Project has taken research and a proof of concept for practices that store carbon on farms—sequestering carbon through either driving carbon into the soil or storing it in above-ground vegetation—and scaled them up,” said David.

MCP carbon sequestration practices have been recognized and acknowledged as valid at the policy level, including as part of the Marin Climate Action Plan. The carbon farming practices have also been scaled up at farms and ranches in the county through the stewardship efforts of the Marin RCD, MALT through its Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP), and other partner organizations.

So far, 19 ranches in Marin have carbon farm plans in place, with a goal of having 60 ranches implementing carbon farming practices by 2030.

“That process of research and scaling up of carbon farming practices is being recognized and replicated not just throughout California, but also in other parts of the country,” David said. “The Marin Carbon Project, working with Marin County’s sustainability team through its Climate Action Plan, is poised to scale up climate solutions on Marin agricultural lands that will eclipse the goals for emissions reduction.”

Improving Water Quality Around Dairies

The UCCE and MALT are also among the organizations tackling the issue of how nutrient management in dairies affects water quality in Marin County.

On flat agricultural lands, like those found in the Central Valley of California or in the Midwest,  where crops such as corn, almonds, or soybeans are grown, consistency in soil type and synthetic fertilizer amounts leads to precise calculations of nitrogen released into water systems.

In contrast, it’s really difficult to calculate or predict the nutrients absorbed and released on Marin’s dairy ranches, with their grassy hills, often steep slopes, and fertilizer in the form of cattle mature. The variability of these conditions makes it challenging to comply with water quality regulations regarding how much nitrogen is entering the streams and groundwater.

Marin UCCE was awarded a grant from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to capture manure samples applied to dairy pastures, then sample the grass or silage grown on those pastures, to help determine the nitrogen levels. “MALT was generous enough to give us an additional amount of money to add some more Marin and San Francisco region dairies to our research, and to cover the laboratory analyses,” said David.

The Importance of Protecting Agricultural Lands

Today, many of the people who know and appreciate the beauty of West Marin, even those who know something of the history of its protection, tend to underestimate the value of protecting agricultural lands.

“One of the biggest challenges that we face as supporters of agricultural lands in Marin is to bridge people’s goals for where they live and work with the idea of private lands that they don’t have access to. But actively managed agricultural lands are a very cost-effective way to reduce fire fuels, enhance biodiversity, and help with climate management. Fires and wildlife don’t stop at a private/public boundary. So it’s important that we continue to have these conversations about the value of agricultural lands and to work together to achieve our shared goals.”

David Lewis, UCCE

The UCCE, MALT, Marin RCD, and other partner organizations spend time focusing on ways to continually work together better.

“We must be forward-looking, while also looking back and assessing what we’ve accomplished, where we are now, and what’s the next step,” David said. “As a county, Marin is such a unique place. We benefit from having such a strong fabric of organizations in place and an agricultural community that really pushes us to innovate and to find that next horizon of agricultural and environmental health.”