Farm Conservation Plans - A Blueprint for Sustainability:
The farmer, working with technical experts, completes a Farm Conservation Plan: a comprehensive inventory and assessment of natural resources, agricultural lands and management practices. The Farm Conservation Plan is a strategy for implementing Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) and guides the improvement of land management practices and the implementation of projects for a specific property. Each Plan is unique, addressing the features and conditions of a particular property.
Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs):
The protection and enhancement of salmon and trout habitat forms the basis of the Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) and all FFF projects. For example, the fish require cold, high-quality water for all stages of their life in fresh water. Fine sediment from soil erosion is a major contaminant that degrades fish habitat and water quality.
Vineyards and orchards must be fully winterized with cover crops of dense grass on the entire vineyard floor, and along field roads and tractor turn-arounds. All roads on the property are assessed by a professional as roads are the main source of mud in creeks. Soil types, slopes, winterization practices, drainage systems, road culverts and ditches, and erosion sites remaining from previous land uses are all inventoried and improvements and repairs specified in the Farm Conservation Plan.
All portions of the creek system on the property are inventoried. Hillside vineyards may have ephemeral creeks lined with oaks or other trees. Ephemeral creeks (also called Class III water courses) typically are steep and only carry water in large storms, but are often sites of soil erosion. The Farm Conservation Plan documents the condition of each creek and identifies the need for erosion repairs or native plant revegetation. Further, the Plan inventories the vineyard/orchard drainage system and road system that may affect ephemeral creeks, assesses the potential for soil erosion, and specifies improvements to avoid future erosion.
Water conservation and agricultural water sources are also addressed in the Farm Conservation Plan. Vineyards usually have drip irrigation and use less irrigation water than any other agricultural crop--significantly less than urban lawns and gardens. Vineyards that are barely irrigated produce a concentration of juices and flavors, making the fine wines for which California is known. Orchard water use varies with crop but can be minimized through certain technologies. The source of water including wells, reservoirs, river and creeks is also evaluated for potential effects on fish habitats.
Low flow sprinklers conserve a great deal of water used for frost protection.
Limiting Chemical Use:
Chemical use in the vineyard including the method of application, frequency of use, and toxicity of each agricultural chemical to aquatic life are addressed in the BMPs.
A row of flowering plants in the vineyard supports beneficial insects that feed on pests and can reduce the need for insecticide use. This is one practice in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, which is required for certification.
Restoring and Sustaining Riparian Corridors and Waterways:
Major creek and river corridors that can support salmon and trout, song and wading birds, ducks, river otters, raccoons, garter snakes, frogs, toads, deer and many other creatures are a major focus of the Farm Conservation Plan. Of course not all farms have these habitats, but all the land in a drainage basin, or watershed, contributes to the quality of a creek and its habitats. Revegetating hillside creeks and repairing erosion sites and roads on watershed lands is essential to the protection and enhancement of downstream fish habitats and riparian corridors.
For those properties with major creeks or river frontage, restoration of an ecologically-functional riparian corridor is part of the Farm Conservation Plan. The creek is evaluated in detail. The width of the scour channel, riparian corridor, proximity of the vineyard and height of the banks are measured over the stretch of creek or river on the property. FFF program staff, working with the farmer, document plant diversity and distribution as well as the location and extent of infestations of invasive non-native species.
A restoration and management program is designed for the creek to remove and control invasive plants, replant native species and widen the corridor using revegetation, if needed. The width of the riparian corridor to be restored is defined by the watershed acreage draining to the creek and a scientific method developed for the Russian River, Navarro River, Sonoma Creek, Gualala River, Napa River, and other nearby watersheds.
New vineyard design is also included in the FFF program. The project site is evaluated for wetlands, all creeks and riparian areas, special habitats, heritage trees, steep slopes and high soil erosion hazards, unstable hillsides, coniferous forest areas and other features. These features are then included in a determination of potential vineyard areas where environmental impacts are avoided or minimized. Vineyard development BMPs are extensive to avoid soil erosion and protect creek systems. In many instances, large properties of 800-1,000-acres that were formerly sheep or cattle ranches or logging sites are developed with 100-150 acres of vineyard. The Plan identifies old gullies and failing roads needing repair in order to reduce sediment delivery to creeks. The forest and other wildlife habitats remain undeveloped while the 100-150-acre vineyard provides an economic return adequate to support the entire 800-1,000 acres.