CIRS Blog about Rural California
Adam Kotin is a Policy Associate at the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN)
SACRAMENTO – Farmers and ranchers throughout California commend the legislature for its recent actions on climate change. The passage of key climate bills, alongside the appropriation of more than $65 million for climate-smart agriculture programs, will provide needed resources for farmers and ranchers to address a changing climate.
“Farmers have a lot at stake in a changing climate as our extreme drought reminds us,” said Tom Willey at T&D Willey Farms in Madera. “We experience the impacts of climate change on our farm every day. I commend the California legislature for continuing down the path of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in the continued success of California agriculture.
The 2015 legislative year in California started off with a bang, climate policy-wise.
Speaking before the assembled members of the Legislature at his January inaugural address, Governor Jerry Brown outlined several bold objectives for the year 2030, including goals to produce 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, reduce petroleum use by 50 percent, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings.
Perhaps most radical was the Governor’s declaration that “we must manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon.” By this he meant agricultural practices—including many in the organic toolkit—that can draw down and hold atmospheric carbon in soils, perennial crops and conservation plantings.
Furthermore, in his budget proposal, Governor Brown included a new program called the Healthy Soils Initiative that “ensures that our agricultural soils have adequate soil organic matter (SOM). Increasing the amount of SOM from its current levels in soils can provide multiple benefits.” Existing and transitioning organic producers should be among those to benefit from this initiative since soil organic matter is a cornerstone of good organic practices.
Rose Marie Burroughs, along with her husband Ward and three of their children, organically farm in Merced County. Their products are branded under Burroughs Family Farms, and include the ABC’s of organics: almonds, beef, chickens, dairy, eggs…and olive oil, as well as artisan gouda cheese. Rosie and Ward serve as members of CalCAN’s Farmer Advisory Council.
Rosie attended a recent hearing on Central Valley climate adaptation held at UC Merced. We produced this summary of the proceedings.
How will drought, higher temperatures and extreme weather associated with climate change have an impact on our region in the coming decades? And how can we adapt to these challenges?
State Senator Bob Wieckowski (Fremont) and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee brought these questions to a legislative hearing at UC Merced on September 22nd. Farm Bureau member Rosie Burroughs attended and provided public testimony to the Committee, suggesting some ways to help growers adapt to climate change impacts.
We heard from panelists and scientists representing several state agencies and regional authorities. Significant shifts to the water cycle due to changing climate trends could have a sizable impact unless we rethink how we store and manage water, they said. More extreme heat days could have health impacts on outdoor workers and low-income communities. Central Valley agriculture may bear the brunt of the changes unless we have the tools we need to adapt.
Amidst California’s ongoing drought, farms and ranches have taken a variety of steps to adjust their practices to cope with less water and sustained heat.
A new report commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) finds that, as a result of these coping mechanisms, the agriculture sector consumes noticeably more electricity in drought years than in normal years. What’s more, the increase in electricity usage varies significantly by agricultural sub-sector.
A detailed look at this data reveals some of the opportunities to achieve even greater water and energy efficiencies so that agricultural producers can survive future droughts without suffering astronomical energy costs on top of all the other stresses a drought can bring.
California Governor Jerry Brown has always been ahead of the curve on environmental sustainability.
During his first term as governor in the 1970s, he authorized a first-ever tax incentive for rooftop solar and rolled back a tax break for oil companies.
He helped make water conservation a way of life during the 1976-77 drought, a California ethos that largely persists to this day.
Now in his fourth (and final) term in office, Governor Brown has an opportunity to round out this impressive environmental résumé: he can transform California into a climate-friendly farming pioneer.
The USDA’s climate change efforts are underway. Climate change is now officially embedded in the Department’s strategic goals, one of which seeks to make forests and working lands “more resilient to climate change." A 2011 Departmental Regulation requires USDA agencies to consider climate change impacts when making long-term planning decisions.
Meanwhile, USDA spending on climate change-related actions has grown in recent years – during FY 2013, USDA says it budgeted approximately $186 million across six of its agencies for climate change related research, outreach, and financial incentives.
USDA and the federal government have come a long way in starting to address the realities of climate change. But until the Department shifts its focus to existing, ‘shovel-ready,' sustainable agriculture solutions to climate change, we will not achieve the level of change that is needed.
Inordinate Focus on Biomass and Biorefineries
Over half of the $186 million in USDA’s FY 2013 climate change dollars were allocated to renewable energy programs —specifically biomass research and development.
According to a recent report, $88 million, or 47% of the USDA’s total climate change budget, went to just two biomass and biorefinery research programs. These programs seek to develop technologies for industrial-scale conversion of agricultural and forestry materials and by-products for fuels and electricity generation.
The inordinate focus of climate change funds on these projects—which will likely benefit only large agri-business interests, and few of them in California—is disappointing. Rather than throwing more millions into technology development, USDA should instead be focusing its efforts on ways to strengthen the resilience of all farmers and ranchers while also achieving on-farm greenhouse gas reductions.
By contrast, financial incentives for farmers to install renewable energy or improve energy efficiencies through the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program amounted to less than $13 million (7 percent).
The California Climate and Agriculture Network's California legislative round up relevant to climate change for 2014.
Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (Stockton) authored the Farmland Conservation Strategy Act (AB 1961). The bill would have required counties with significant farmland resources to inventory their agricultural lands and describe their goals/policies to retain farmland and mitigate for its loss. AB 1961 passed through the Assembly Local Government and Agriculture Committees, but was held over in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May 2014, after seeing intense opposition from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA).
Despite this, California is moving forward with addressing farmland conservation and climate change issues. The Strategic Growth Council in partnership with the Resources Agency has proposed draft guidelines for a new agricultural lands conservation program [pdf] aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with sprawl development.
Last week, he issued his second proclamation of drought emergency since the start of the year. In doing so, he called out the likely connection between the drought and climate change, stating, “We are playing Russian Roulette with our environment.”
The Governor’s proclamation orders expedited actions and eases regulations across key state agencies and local actors, including the Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Water Resources, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and local homeowners associations.
In addressing the needs of water users across the state, it is clear the Governor faces some tough decisions for managing drought impacts on farms, cities, and the environment. Too timid a response could leave water users stranded; too heavy a hand could hurt regulatory authority and damage fragile ecosystems already crippled by drought.
The Governor has gone for a balance between these approaches, and last Friday’s executive order has largely been praised by stakeholders across the spectrum.
So what does the Governor’s second set of drought orders mean for California’s farms and ranches?
By Adam Kotin and Dru Marion
On January 31, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that no water would be delivered this year from the State Water Project to its twenty-nine public water agency customers — a first in the Project’s 54-year history. These deliveries help supply water to 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. DWR also announced that allocations to Sacramento Valley agricultural districts would be cut in half.
The current drought, which continues to smash records statewide, has inspired a litany of articles and musings on the drought of 1976-1977. To be sure, there are some striking similarities between our current predicament and the dire situation 37 years ago – including the fact that then, as now, Jerry Brown was the fellow declaring the emergency.
But California has often endured water scarcity throughout its history, and each occasion has brought its own challenges. Out of those challenges have come valuable lessons, and as the current dry spell becomes more severe it is worth remembering – and learning from – the state’s long history of unpredictable weather fluctuations.