CIRS Blog about Rural California
The California Climate and Agriculture Network is a coalition of sustainable agriculture organizations serving as the voice of organic and sustainable agriculture on climate policy.
By Amy Winzer
Scott Park never set foot on a farm until he was twenty years old. At that time, a fraternity brother connected him with the manager of a tomato operation in the Sacramento Valley, and Park ended up going into business with him. Six years later, he went out on his own. “The fact that I’m doing this is pretty much a fluke,” said Park. “I don’t go generations back. I think it gives me a different perspective because I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what farming is.”
Today at Park Farming Organics, Park, joined by his wife Ulla and son Brian, farm 1,500 acres in Meridian, California. Out of that total, Park rents roughly 1,300 acres and owns about 200 acres. Almost all of the acreage has been certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Although he started out in tomatoes, Park’s crop portfolio has expanded to include rice, corn, wheat, millet, dry beans, herbs, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, gourds, stevia, coriander, flax, snow peas, safflower, sunflowers and more.
Before 1986, Park relied heavily on synthetic fertilizers, which he now characterizes as a short-term approach to farming. He switched to a long-term approach focused on nurturing soil health after noticing a nearby field was healthier than the ground he was working. “It slapped me in the face that what I was doing was completely wrong. My ground was getting harder and harder,” recalled Park.
By Brian Shobe
The State Legislature took an important step in September toward recognizing and remedying centuries-long injustices for people of color and women in agriculture. Both chambers passed Assembly Bill 1348 – the Farmer Equity Act – with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), now heads to the Governor’s desk.
By building racial and gender equity priorities into the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s responsibilities, executive staff structure, advisory committees, and programs, the Farmer Equity Act moves us closer to ensuring that all of California’s farmers have equitable influence on and access to government resources, including the state’s Climate Smart Ag programs.
Approximately one in four farms in California are managed by farmers of color and approximately one in five are managed by women. California has the largest population of Asian farmers and third largest population of Latino farmers in the country.
But despite their sizable numbers, data from the 2012 Ag Census shows that farmers of color and women tend to operate on significantly smaller acreages, earn significantly less revenue from the products they sell, and receive significantly less in government funding compared to white farmers and men.
By Amy Winzer
First Generation Farmers (FGF) is a non-profit community farm located next to Discovery Bay (between Stockton and Brentwood) with the mission of increasing their community’s access to healthy, locally and sustainably grown food and educating young and old about agriculture.
The 27-acre farmland was donated to FGF by Cecchini & Cecchini, owners of a 1,176-acre family farm. The Cecchini family, with the help of Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust (BALT) and FGF, secured a grant for an agricultural easement through California’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) which is funded with cap-and-trade money.
The easement covers 520 acres of their family farm, including the FGF land. CalCAN and our partners been strong advocates for funding for this program to both preserve farmland and avoid future greenhouse gas emissions associated with urban development of valuable cropland.
To date, over $42 million has been invested in permanent agricultural easements on land at risk of development throughout California. FGF’s SALC-funded agricultural easement is under considerable development pressure, being contiguous to Discovery Bay and sandwiched between the East Bay and Stockton, both rapidly urbanizing regions of California.
By Brian Shobe
California’s much anticipated Healthy Soils Program officially launched Tuesday with the release of the first Request for Grant Applications (RGA) by the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA). The deadline for applications is 5pm on September 19th.
The first of its kind in the country, the program will provide grants to farmers and ranchers for implementing on-farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or store carbon in soil, trees and shrubs. Types of practices that will be eligible include the addition of mulch and compost, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and the planting of herbaceous and woody plants such as windbreaks, hedgerows, riparian plantings, filter strips, silvopasture and more.
Three types of grants will be available:
- Direct farmer grants: Incentives of up to $50,000 per farm or ranch for the implementation of one or more new soil and conservation management practices.
- Outreach and Education/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $100,000 for soil improvement practices that reduce GHGs and increase soil health, and also have an outreach and demonstration component to showcase the healthy soils practices and promote their widespread adoption throughout the state. These will likely involve partnerships between producers and non-profits, Resource Conservation Districts and/or academic or extension departments.
- Research/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $250,000. These are similar to the prior category of demonstration project, but in addition to outreach and education on healthy soils practices, these projects must include measurement and data collection on GHG emissions and carbon sequestration.
For more information on the program and links to resources to assist growers in applying, visit the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) website. This is a condensed version of an article published on August 9, 2017.
By Brian Shobe
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is now accepting public comments on its draft Requests for Grant Applications (RGA) for the $6.75 million Healthy Soils Program (HSP), authorized by the Budget Act of 2016, and funded through California’s cap-and-trade program.
The Healthy Soils Program offers grants to farmers who take action to capture greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, in the soil to help combat climate change.
The Healthy Soils Program will be implemented under two separate components: 1) the $3.75 million Incentives Program and 2) the $3 million Demonstration Projects. For the Incentives Program, an estimated $3.75 million in competitive grant funding will be awarded to provide financial assistance for implementation of agricultural management practices that sequester soil carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Earlier this month, on behalf of the California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN), I attended two unique and thought-provoking international conferences in Paris, France. The following is a report back on the two events.
The by-invitation conferences were loosely coordinated and overlapping, and both were the first of their kind. They were attended by approximately 350 people from at least 40 countries and every continent. Several CalCAN partners attended, as did Jenny Lester-Moffitt, Deputy Secretary with CDFA.
The Future of Food in a Changing World was organized by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a collaboration of philanthropic foundations. The first conference brought together 250 experts and leaders from the local to the global to gain deeper insights into the connections between climate change and food systems, to craft visions of the food systems we need today and tomorrow, and to chart potential pathways to get there.
The second conference was titled Sequestering Carbon in Soil: Addressing the Climate Threat and was organized by Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions, philanthropic consultants. I served as a conference planning committee member along with others from Canada, Germany, France, Ghana and California. We met for six months leading up to the conference to provide input on the conference objectives, structure, content, speakers and participants.
By Renata Brillinger
The Soil Carbon Challenge digs directly into the ground with the farmers, ranchers, and landowners who can manage land to improve soil health. Peter Donovan, a leader in demonstrating the connection between land management practices and increased soil carbon, founded the Soil Carbon Challenge—“an international prize competition to see how fast land managers can turn atmospheric carbon into water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter.” Peter has established an approach to scientifically showing (not just telling) the nexus of appropriate land management, soils, and carbon sequestration.
When managed correctly, soil can become a “sink” for atmospheric carbon while also providing benefits such as increased water holding capacity, decreased erosion and runoff, and improved health, productivity, and resilience due to enhanced populations and diversity of soil microorganisms.
Peter believes in showing possibility by measuring change over time, and recognizing actual results. As such, The Soil Carbon Coalition supports “a different kind of science”, believing science is “based on shared evidence, open participation, specific locations and situations, and on learning to manage wholes more than parts.”
By Beth Smoker
Earlier this month, the state’s Strategic Growth Council (SGC) awarded $37.4 million in project funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Land Conservation (SALC) Program. This landmark climate change and agriculture program, administered by the Department of Conservation and overseen by the SGC, funds agricultural conservation easements to protect agricultural land from sprawl development and local governments projects to develop strategies and policies for long-term agricultural conservation – all with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use and vehicle miles traveled. Since 2015, SALC Program has invested over $42 million in farmland conservation.
In this second year of the SALC Program, the SGC approved the Department of Conservation’s recommendations to award one planning grant and 20 agriculture conservation easements, permanently preserving nearly 19,000 acres of crop and rangeland in California. Two of the agriculture conservation easements are located in disadvantaged communities where low-income residents are disproportionately impacted by pollution.
This is an excerpt of an article posted on August 17, 2016 on the California Climate and Agriculture Network website. For more information about the program check out another post on the CalCAN website.
By Beth Smoker
U.S. Department of Agriculture Initiative Gets Underway
During the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Climate Month of May, Secretary Vilsack announced an additional $72.3 million for soil health investments to support the department’s 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture. Secretary Vilsack established the USDA climate change initiative just over a year ago in preparation for last year’s Paris Climate Conference. The initiative aims to increase agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration in agriculture and forests.
This additional funding is being distributed through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), where each state will have the discretion to determine which Climate Change Building Blocks to focus their additional funds on. This is the first time EQIP funding has been explicitly allocated for climate-smart agriculture practices. California NRCS has received $4.3 million of this $72.3 million allocation.
California NRCS plans to fund agricultural management practices that address soil health, nitrogen management, grazing and pasture and private forest practices. All with an eye to increasing soil carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers and ranchers, beginning this summer, can go into their NRCS District Office to find out more about how they may qualify for the new EQIP climate change funding. The application process is the same as regular EQIP.
A learning opportunity for CDFA’s Healthy Soils Initiative
The USDA funding for climate-smart agriculture comes at an important time for California. The state is considering a new Healthy Soils Initiative, also aimed at providing financial incentives for growers for management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently released its draft framework for the program. The upcoming California NRCS experience of distributing climate-related EQIP funds can help inform the CDFA initiative. More information can be found here.
This article was published on the California Climate and Agriculture Network website on June 9.
You may have been hearing the phrase “climate smart agriculture” more lately. Governor Brown embraced the term in his 2016-17 budget proposal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a climate smart agriculture initiative. And international climate efforts include the UN’s work on support climate smart agricultural practices.
So what is climate smart agriculture? Like the phrase “sustainable agriculture,” it is not universally defined, and it is used to mean many things to many people.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations takes credit for first coining the term in the lead up to the 2010 Hague Conference on Food Security, Agriculture and Climate Change. The FAO defines climate smart agriculture as “a means of identifying which production systems and enabling institutions are best suited to respond to the challenges of climate change for specific locations, to maintain and enhance the capacity of agriculture to support food security in a sustainable way.”
The FAO identifies three pillars to the concept:
- Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes
- Adapting and building resilience to climate change
- Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible
A new CalCAN report says that California’s farmland is at risk from traditional pressures like urban sprawl and new ones including large-scale solar energy projects and oil and gas exploration. Despite mounting evidence showing the climate change benefits of protecting farmland and curbing greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation and energy use, California farmland is under threat of being paved over.
Triple Harvest: Farmland Conservation for Climate Protection, Smart Growth and Food Security describes the many essential services provided by California farmland and current development threats. It outlines policy recommendations for protecting agricultural lands to ensure their climate, food security and other benefits.
“California’s existing farmland protection policy tools are outdated and underfunded,” reported CalCAN’s Policy Director Jeanne Merrill at the summit. “They must be strengthened, especially at the boundaries of our cities where farms can provide the greatest benefit to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.”
As California aims to reach its mandate of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, both smart growth planning and urban edge farmland protection will be crucial. For example, a 2012 study by UC Davis researchers found that in Yolo County, urban development generates 70 times more greenhouse gas emissions than irrigated cropland.
In November, the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply released a report entitled From Storage to Retention: Expanding California’s Options for Meeting Its Water Needs. The report argues for an expansion of approaches to storing water that increase supply reliability for specialty crop agricultural production and other beneficial uses while protecting ecosystem health.
By Rich Rominger and Renata Brillinger
Food and farming is a big part of California’s identity. After all, the state produces 400 different crops and livestock products and provides more than half of the U.S. supply of fruits, vegetables and nuts and is the country’s leading dairy supplier. Many agricultural landscapes pervade California culture — cattle grazing among oak woodlands; vineyards splashing fall colors; almond orchards blooming pink in spring; vast rows of tomatoes, strawberries and lettuce, and more.
This year, California’s long-anticipated cap-and-trade program goes into effect. The ground was laid for the program in 2006 when Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, the country’s most comprehensive climate protection policy. Under the law, California will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
After much debate, legal challenge and a ballot measure attempting to stop it, beginning this year the first steps of implementing cap-and-trade will get underway with full implementation beginning in January 2013.
Under cap-and-trade the largest polluters of GHGs are required to “cap” and subsequently reduce their GHG emissions through a combination of renewable energy production, energy efficiency and related measures. Alternatively, polluters can partially meet their obligations by purchasing additional “allowances” (aka permits to emit GHGs) or by buying “offset credits” on the carbon market from other entities that are voluntarily reducing their GHG emissions.