Jeanne Merrill is the Policy Director for the California Climate and Agriculture Network.

In his budget released on January 10th, Governor Jerry Brown proposed on-going investments in climate smart agriculture programs, including the new Healthy Soils Program. The budget proposes to maintain current funding levels. However, there’s a catch. The funding will only become available if the legislature votes by two-thirds to extend the cap-and-trade program beyond the year 2020 when the program is set to expire. Why the catch?

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When state legislators return to Sacramento this week, climate change will be at the top of their agenda. Still pending are finalization of the state’s climate change investments for the coming year and, most important, setting the road map for climate change policy in California beyond the year 2020.

For California agriculture, these decisions will impact whether or not there are resources available for the state’s farmers and ranchers to address a changing climate. Given the latest agriculture and climate change news of on-going drought impacts and rising temperatures hurting some crops, farmers and ranchers are weighing in, calling for support for programs like the Healthy Soils Initiative.

As we reported back in June, the FY 2016-17 budget was finalized without the legislature and Governor deciding how the state would invest billions in cap-and-trade revenues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over $100 million in proposed funding is on the line for California farmers and ranchers to reduce water use and save on energy, improve soil management and store more carbon in agricultural soils, and reduce potent greenhouse gases like methane.

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Council Votes to Expand Funding, New Program Guidelines 

This week, the state of California greatly expanded funding for the country’s first climate change and farmland conservation program. The Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP) funds conservation easements on agricultural lands to permanently protect them and reduce sprawl development. The program also funds efforts by local governments to improve their land use planning and policy development to support long-term conservation of agricultural lands in their region.

photo credit: CAFF

photo credit: CAFF

The Strategic Growth Council (Council), made up of members of Governor Jerry Brown’s cabinet and appointed public members, voted to increase SALCP funding to $40 million, up from $5 million last year. The SALCP funding of $40 million represents nearly half of what the state has invested in farmland conservation in the past 18 years through its California Farmland Conservancy Program.

This significant new funding for farmland conservation in the state should help address the on-going significant loss of agricultural land in California, which averages 50,000 acres annually.

SALCP brings together farmland conservation with climate change by focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the conversion of agricultural lands to urban, suburban and rural ranchette development. The program was created following research at UC Davis by Louise Jackson, Stephen Wheeler and others that found that an acre of urban land in Yolo County emitted 70 times more greenhouse gas emissions compared to an acre of irrigated cropland. The climate benefits of farmland, including its ability to capture and store atmospheric carbon, are lost when the land is converted to urban or other non-agricultural uses.

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California recently took action to protect some of the state’s most threatened agricultural lands by investing in conservation easements and land use planning. These tools have been used for many years by land trusts and local governments to permanently protect farmland from development.

But for the first time the state is focusing its farmland conservation efforts to meet its climate change objectives.

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The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) released earlier this month a unique report on the effects of climate change that the state is experiencing now.  The report comes as a recent public opinion poll finds a record number of Californians want immediate state action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many climate science reports project into the future what we may experience as greenhouse gases accumulate and heat up our planet.  Such studies are critical to our understanding of climate change, but can make its impacts feel far and distant from our day-to-day.

But the most recent CalEPA report documents current climate change impacts that Californians are living with now. And the news has implications for all of us and especially for farmers and ranchers who are among the first to feel the effects of a changing climate.

Wildfires are increasing in intensity and frequency. Since 1950, annual acreage burned in wildfires statewide has been increasing.  The state’s three largest fire years occurred in the last ten years.

 

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