The Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, working with stakeholders of the Community Water Dialogue, facilitated the development of a Covered Fallow Plan for the Pajaro Valley. The plan comes in response to landowner and grower interest in exploring rotational fallowing as one of many actions for conserving water. The results of this planning process can inform future incentive programs.

 “Covered Fallow” refers to incorporating a fallow period within an existing crop rotation and planting a cover crop during that period, instead of leaving bare soil exposed. Developing a rotational cover cropped fallowing plan can help achieve multiple conservation objectives, including: water savings, soil health, erosion control and carbon capture.

The benefits of incorporating covered fallow rotations to the farm operation include:

  • Potential increases in marketable yield in subsequent years
  • Disrupting the cycle of soilborne plant diseases and phytoparasitic nematodes
  • Water savings
  • Improving soil quality and better retaining nitrate in the soil (useful for nitrate reporting)
  • Facilitating transition to organic production

The benefits of increasing adoption/acreage of covered fallow rotations to the community include:

  • Reduced pressure on limited groundwater resources (cover crops require less water than marketable crops)
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions (through reduced use of farm equipment and pumping and carbon sequestration during the covered fallow rotation)
  • Reduced runoff of nitrogen and sediment into local waterways

Funding for the planning process was provided through the CA Air Resources Board’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (California Climates Investment Program) to the County of Santa Cruz.

The Covered Fallow Plan planning process included the following activities:

  1. Conduct a baseline assessment of rotational fallowing and cover cropping in the Pajaro Valley.
  2. Analyze local costs and benefits of cover cropping and assess the cost effectiveness of the practice to help achieve desired public benefits. Economists from Highland Economics completed a cover crop cost benefit analysis using available data and informed by focus groups and interviews with Pajaro Valley growers, landowners, technical advisors and other stakeholders.
  3. Develop tools to assist decision-makers in predicting costs and benefits of covered fallow under different cropping scenarios
  4. Identify community-supported incentive program structures including goals, target acreages, and rules.
  5. Explore potential funding mechanisms and establish a plan for implementing a covered fallow incentive program


Pajaro Valley Covered Fallow Plan (2018)

pdfCovered Fallow Plan Executive Summary

pdfPajaro Valley Covered Fallow Plan

Covered Fallow Plan Decision Support Tool (opens in excel)

Appendix 1 Cover Crop Cost Benefit Analysis 

pdfPajaro Valley Covered Fallow Plan Economic Analysis 2017

Cover Crop Scenario one pagers

pdfSpring/summer covered fallow replacing spinach or lettuce

pdfSpring/summer covered fallow replacing organic spinach or lettuce

pdfFull year covered fallow replacing broccoli and lettuce

pdfFull year covered fallow replacing organic broccoli and lettuce

pdfFull year covered fallow replacing strawberries

pdfFull year covered fallow replacing organic strawberries