PESCADERO, Calif. — When it comes to regenerative agriculture, soil health is the cornerstone.

What You Need To Know

  • Observational monitoring of the soil takes place at 40 different points on TomKat Ranch

  • Soil data is standardized and shared with the Rangeland Monitoring Network

  • The network includes over 100 ranches in California, which helps ranchers understand their landscape and how it affects their outcomes

  • Regenerative agriculture revolves around soil health using five principles, and data is shared with the scientific and political communities

No one on TomKat Ranch understands soil better than scientist Chelsea Carey.

"These are the pieces of a soil auger, which is a soil scientist’s best friend," she said.

Carey is a soil scientist with Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit that partners with TomKat Ranch to lead their soil research.

Soil is foundational to our food system, so its health is vital.

Healthy soil needs biodiversity above ground with plants, and below ground with microbes driving the carbon, nutrient and water cycles — which is critical to a functioning ecosystem that supports healthy foods.

"It influences food production, the amount of food we can produce," said Carey. "But just as important, it influences the quality of that food. So the healthier soil you have, that’s linked to plant nutrition."

Chelsea conducts her research in collaboration with TomKat Ranch manager Mark Biaggi.

Over the years, they’ve tested different land management practices that could be promising for soil health and for forage production and quality.

Healthy soil holds more water, so it’s key to resiliency from extreme weather conditions.

"We’re in California. One year, we get 14 inches. This year, we got 52 inches. You don’t know what’s coming at you," said Biaggi. "If I can manage to get the water in the ground, then I have a chance at growing plants, and those plants build the soil."

To build resiliency, they adhere to healthy soil principles, such as no tilling or bare soil, which can degrade and dry it out and release carbon into the air.

Healthy soil is a carbon sink, with the incredible capacity to store more below ground than plants and the atmosphere combined.

"By doing so, you are at once helping to solve the climate crisis and crises related to food security," said Carey. "And that is increasingly important as we have the effects of climate change."

So there is a big opportunity through regenerative farming and ranching to fight the climate crisis. And with healthy soil comes resiliency, giving working lands like TomKat Ranch an upper hand in maintaining production in the face of extreme weather.