The climate solutions beneath our feet: Agriculture and soil health

Photo courtesy of Jackson Family Wines

Jackson Family Wines’ founder Jess Jackson said, “Take care of the land, and it will take care of you.” He understood the connection between finding the best locations in which to grow high quality wine grapes, and farming them with the utmost care. For Jess, his definition of sustainability was rooted deeply in the land, and in building a family owned and operated business that would stand the test of time.

Flash forward over three decades, where the next generation of Jackson family members are finding their way within this dynamic business, and our definition of sustainability continues to evolve. Today, we farm each of our vineyards as unique ecosystems, encouraging biodiversity to keep our lands healthy and vibrant. We employ practices like planting cover crops that in addition to reducing erosion, attract beneficial birds and insects to control pests naturally, which enhances the quality of our winegrowing.

In California and Oregon alone, the family owns approximately 40,000 acres of premium coastal land, of which only about 14,000 are planted to vines, and all vineyards are farmed according to the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, Sustainability in Practice, and Low Input Viticulture and Enology program standards for best practices in sustainable viticulture. Much of the rest of the family’s landholdings have been intentionally left in their native state, a veritable landscape of forests, chaparral, and rangelands scattered throughout the coastal regions. Jess was adamant about land conservation, and it is a legacy the family has built upon over the years, because this land supports so many ecosystem services that are vital to our continued longevity. 

What Jess didn’t know about his passion for land conservation, which we are now finding out, is that the soils beneath our feet could quite literally hold the key to helping stem the tide of a changing climate. Over the course of the past two years, inspired by the work of organizations like the Marin Carbon Project and Project Drawdown, the Jackson Family Wines sustainability team has been researching the possibilities presented by a concept known as Carbon Farming, which seeks to build the natural capabilities of soil to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide by implementing practices such as spreading compost, reducing tillage, and planting cover crops.

Mapping our carbon sequestration potential

This initial research led to a carbon mapping analysis we conducted in collaboration with LIFT Economy for the Jackson family’s planted and unplanted lands across three California counties (Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma), using the COMET Planner and Compost Planner tools developed by USDA/NRCS, Colorado State University, and the California Department of Food & Agriculture, respectively. This mapping exercise uncovered significant sequestration potential, which we believe collectively has the likelihood to “inset” more than 100% of our company’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, across all three scopes.

CDFA’s Healthy Soils Grant Program – A demonstration project at Jackson Family Wines

Building on the mapping exercise, we wanted to participate in research to determine whether a working vineyard can, in fact, serve as an active carbon sink. In late-2017, our proposed project, in collaboration with Sonoma Resource Conservation District, was awarded grant funding by the California Department of Food & Agriculture’s Healthy Soils Program (funded by CA Cap & Trade dollars). The 5-year project will examine the impacts of tillage, compost, and cover cropping practices on soil organic matter to determine whether grape growers can play an active role in addressing climate change. We’re also exploring if these climate beneficial agricultural practices will lead to making our vineyard ecosystems more resilient, and ultimately result in a higher quality bottle of wine. A tour of this project will be featured affiliate event at the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit in mid-September.

Creating a carbon market to benefit agriculture

Thinking beyond the Healthy Soils Project and our internal carbon mapping initiative, we would like to explore how these initiatives can lead to the development of a verification protocol for agricultural carbon sequestration. Our hope is that if we can work with a multi-stakeholder group to agree on a verifiable protocol for on-farm carbon sequestration, we can help create a market for the agriculture industry to serve as a solution to climate change. That’s something we can all drink to!

About Jackson Family Wines: Jackson Family Wines is a family-owned, premium collection of vineyards and wineries spanning the globe. Our multigenerational mission is to craft wines of integrity and cultivate a lasting agricultural heritage for future generations. It begins with respect for the land and time-honored winegrowing traditions. We minimize our environmental impacts through land conservation, low impact farming, smart water use and innovative energy management. As our awareness and methodologies evolve, we’ll continue to advance the long-term health and wellbeing of our lands and communities. Learn more at 

Last updated September 20, 2018

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