High Demands for Sustainability Call for Solutions from the Land
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
With an increasing population and fewer resources, the agriculture industry is under increasing pressure to remain sustainable. Solutions from the Land is meeting this challenge head-on by examining more progressive ways to produce.
Solutions From The Land is a farmer-led platform that advocates for multiple solutions towards well-managed agricultural landscapes that can still meet the demands of an increasing population.
Ernie Shea, president of Solutions From The Land, is optimistic about California agriculture’s future.
“We’ve had significant investments in technology and infrastructure that have allowed the systems to deploy at a scale, but more than anything, we’ve had progressive leaders that have helped to champion this cause,” he said.
One of the pathways Solutions From The Land is working towards is soil health programming. Through this, farmers are improving the organic content in their soil and soaking up leached water.
“They’re sequestering greenhouse gases and delivering global solutions,” Shea explained.
The organization has partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and encouraged government leaders to endorse soil health programming in hopes that they will help farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions.
“We hope someday we’ll add economic value to the carbon that we’re sinking and reward the producers for it,” Shea said
Calif. Lt. Governor Newsom Says Ag is at a Hinge-Moment in History
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
In an exclusive interview with Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, during the recent Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, Newsom declared, “It’s interesting about California—outside of Hollywood—no two more iconic industries exist than Silicon Valley’s technology, and the agricultural industry.
“It seems self-evident to everybody here that we have a unique opportunity to collaborate,” Newsom said about the event which joined the Silicon Valley high tech industry with the state’s farming industry to create digital solutions for agriculture. “We have the unique opportunity based on proximity and based on history. It is also a cultural opportunity as it relates to relationships that have been formed over the course of generations to begin to build bridges and connect some dots.”
Newsom said he believes in bottom-up inspiration, not top-down. “I don’t think you can sell down your vision from Sacramento. It’s about regions rising together and creating conditions for just these type of collaborations,” he said.
Newsom particularly appreciated comments about innovation. “I wrote a book, [“Citizenville”] and I’m not here to promote that book,” said Newsom, “but the whole idea was about platform thinking. The concept is the federal government, state government, and even local government cannot prescribe a federal, state or local pill for every problem,” he said.
“The point is,” he continued, “if we’re going to solve the big problems of the day, we have to create an environment—a platform—to engage folks like yourselves to deliver the applications, literally and figuratively, to solve big problems. It’s self-evident to anyone who lives here in California, that we’ve got some big problems.”
“We have regulatory challenges in this state, and I say this as a business person with many businesses. I have a sense of kindred connection in spirit to the entrepreneurial ways that are here today,” he commented. Owner of three wineries, several restaurants and hotels, Newsom stated, “I am in the Ag business, of sorts. My point is, we could do a lot better to make a point that [agriculture] matters and we care,” he said.
“At the same time,” he added, “Silicon Valley is center-tip of the spear—all the innovation and discovery, and the change in the way we live, work and play,” Newsom said.
“We’re here on a hinge-moment in history where we are going from something old to something new, a world of mobile, local, and social; and cloud and crowd. It’s a moment of anxiety for a lot of people, a moment of merger—the detonation of globalization and technology coming together. Again, there’s a lot of anxiety,” he noted.
Newsom suggested this is an opportune time to try to connect dots and address challenges, not just on the regulatory side and on the economic development side in this state, but also on the self-evident issues of water scarcity in this state. “You may have different opinions about climate change, global warming or violent disruption,” said Newsom, “but, as a guy who told me the other day up in Dutch Flat, Placer County, ‘I don’t care about all you folks from San Francisco talking about climate change, but something just ain’t right.’ Which is another way of describing a connection that things have changed,” Newsom explained.
Newsom said that kind of predictive nature, in terms of how we construct a water system for a world that no longer exists, and for a population that is twice the size; self-evidently, we have to do things differently. “We’ve got to be more creative and we’ve got to be more strategic,” he noted.
“It’s a long way of saying we are grateful for the work [California farmers] are doing. The goal for us in California is to make these conversations sustainable. ‘Not just situational and not just one annual conversation, but these are dialogs that must continue every day in this state,” Newsom said.
“I’m one of those people who believes in the combination of nature and technology, bringing cross-disciplines together,” Newsom said. “Cross-pollinating, literally and figuratively, ideas and people—values. “I think we have an incredible opportunity here in California, not just to survive in the agricultural industry but to truly thrive in a growing, competitive environment.”
Governor Brown Wants to be the World Leader in Climate Change
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Associate Editor
Because Governor Brown wants to be the world leader on climate change, he recently signed an Executive Order with the target of reducing green house gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030, to be extended to 80 percent by the year 2050. Keep in mind the agricultural industry cannot get there without making significant changes to the transportation and energy systems.
Additional targets are short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane and black carbon, which is soot from stationary engines. So, we are talking about a major air quality and energy shift in this state. Governor Brown also aims to reduce petroleum use in half by 2030 and increase renewable energy mandates from one-third to one-half by 2030.
What comes to mind when you think of a “family farm?” You’re probably picturing a bucolic spread of less than 100 acres, with a red barn, farmer in overalls, and cows grazing a big pasture. What about the phrase “corporate farm” or “?” Do you see a giant, impersonal and industrial-looking operation?
Unfortunately, these common (mis)perceptions are regularly promoted in everything from TV ads to online chats. But the reality is that “big” does not equate to “bad,” and “small” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” when it comes to sustainable farming. In fact, it’s the wrong debate altogether.
What really matters is performance, not size.
Today is National Agriculture Day, celebrated annually on March 18, and this year’s theme is sustaining future generations. If we’re going to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, we’re going to need large and small farms alike. And no matter their size, they’ll need to minimize their impacts on the natural systems that sustain us all.
Addressing the myth
It’s a myth that large farms can’t be sustainable, just as it’s a myth that all family farms are small and better for the environment.
Take Christine Hamilton, for example, whose family farm produces corn, soybeans, winter wheat and cattle across 14,000 acres in South Dakota. For years she’s been participating in USDA conservation programs, using no-till practices, planting trees to limit erosion, and utilizing variable rate technologies to improve the environment and her yields.
There are also places like Fair Oaks Farms, which milks over 500 cows … an hour. To make their large operation more sustainable, Fair Oaks pumps methane from its livestock to an on-site natural gas station that compresses it into fuel for the farm’s fleet of 40 milk trucks.
Many small-farm operations implement sustainable practices as well. A perfect example is Full Belly Farms, a 400-acre organic farm in Northern California that won last year’s prestigious Leopold Conservation Award. But I’ve visited small farms where livestock roam freely into streams, soil erosion destroys riverbanks, and nutrient management plans are nonexistent.
In the U.S., agriculture already occupies 51 percent of our land, uses 80 percent of the [Nation’s consumptive*] water, and is responsible for 8 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. And in the coming decades U.S. farms will be responsible for producing even more food. In order to make agriculture a plus for the environment, farm practices will need to change.
Of course, we have to keep in mind the context here. Mid-size and large-scale family farms account for 8 percent of U.S. farms but 60 percent of the value of production, so in order to bring sustainable agriculture to scale, they will have to do the bulk of the work. But small farms have a much higher share of production for specific commodities in the U.S. – they account for 56 percent of domestic poultry production, for example – so we’ll need their leadership, too.
Regardless of size, all farms need to:
Minimize the loss of nutrients and soil to air and water through nutrient optimization strategies such as conservation tillage.
Use water as efficiently as possible.
Improve soil health through strategies such as cover crops.
Avoid plowing up ecologically important lands.
Fence livestock out of streams and implement management plans to maintain healthy grazing lands and avoid overgrazing
It’s time we shift the public debate and get everyone on board the sustainability train. Arguing about a farm’s size won’t deliver environmental benefits. In the end, it’s all about performance.
*“California Ag Today added “Nation’s consumptive” from the original USDA text and offers the following definitions:
“Consumptive water use” is a use of water that removes the water from the system so that it cannot be recovered for reuse by some other entity. Consumptive uses may be beneficial or non‐beneficial. A beneficial consumptive use would be crop evapotranspiration.
If the basis for the discussion is water consumptively used by only agricultural, municipal & industrial users, then agriculture’s share would be estimated in the range of 80 percent of the total. However, if the percentage is based on dedicated water, which includes environmental uses, then agriculture’s share is more in the range of 40 percent.
Dedicated water – as defined by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is “water distributed among urban and agricultural uses, used for protecting and restoring the environment, or storage in surface water and groundwater reservoirs. In any year, some of the dedicated supply includes water that is used multiple times (reuse) and water held in storage from previous years. This is about 40 to 50 percent of the total annual water supply received from precipitation and imported from Colorado, Oregon, and Mexico.”
Dedicated water includes water flowing in the Wild and Scenic Rivers. Many partially used or unrestricted rivers could have been significantly diverted for use by municipal & industrial and/or agriculture. However, these waters have been dedicated by law to the environment. Other examples of dedicated water are the 800,000 acre‐feet/year reallocated back to the environment by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) and the 647,000 AF/year reallocated back for Trinity River restoration of that river’s fishery.
(Sources: (1) Record of Decision. Trinity River Mainstem Fishery Restoration. Final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report. U.S. Department of the Interior. December 2000; (2) Westlands Water District vs. U.S. Department of Interior. Case Nos. 03‐15194, 03‐15289, 03‐15291 and 03‐15737. Argued and Submitted Feb. 9, 2004 ‐ July 13, 2004, United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit)
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works directly with businesses, government and communities to create lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF’s Growing Returns Blog posts news about the organization’s goal of meeting growing demands for food in ways that improve the environment.
CIG is a voluntary program to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. The program leverages federal investment in methods that enhance the environment while also sustaining agricultural production. CIG enables NRCS to work with public and private entities to accelerate technology transfer and adoption of promising approaches to address pressing natural resource concerns.
In fiscal year 2015, NRCS California is requesting CIG project pre-proposals that focus on one or more of the following natural resource issues: water quality/quantity; air quality and climate change; energy conservation; waste recycling; and wildlife habitat. The CIG detailed proposal announcement and project requirements can be found at www.grants.gov, the California NRCS Programs webpage, or by contacting Erik Beardsley at Erik.Beardsley@ca.usda.gov or (530) 792-5649.
Grants to eligible entities and individuals may not exceed $75,000. Funds will be awarded through a statewide competitive grants process. Eligible applicants include eligible state and local government, nongovernment organizations, eligible private business or individuals for competitive consideration of grant awards for projects between one and three years in duration.
Applications for this pre-proposal phase must be received by NRCS before 4:30 p.m. on April 10. NRCS will announce selected pre-proposal applications by May 1. Selected applicants will then be required to submit a full proposal package to NRCS before 4:30 p.m. on June 5.
NRCS has provided leadership in a partnership effort to help America’s private landowners and managers conserve their soil, water and other natural resources since 1935.
The Society for Range Management bestowed its highest honor, the Frederick G. Renner Award, on Barbara Allen-Diaz, UC vice president for the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the society’s annual meeting today (Feb. 2) in Sacramento. A tremendous milestone, Allen-Diaz is the first female SRM member to receive the award in the society’s 68-year history.
The premier award is given annually to SRM members who have sustained accomplishments or contributions to rangeland management during the last ten years.
“Barbara has a record of outstanding research productivity that has affected the understanding and management of California rangelands and has had global impacts,” said Amy Ganguli, assistant professor of range science at New Mexico State University.
“Barbara is also a well-regarded educator who has mentored several graduate students and young professionals who are making significant contributions to rangeland and natural resource management,” said Ganguli, who, along with Fee Busby, Utah State University wildland resources professor, nominated her for the award.
This is not the first time Allen-Diaz has been recognized by her peers for her research on the effects of livestock grazing on natural resources, oak woodlands and ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada. The national society honored her with its Outstanding Achievement Award in 2001, and the following year the California chapter named her Range Manager of the Year.
In 2007, Allen-Diaz was among 2,000 scientists recognized for their work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to the IPCC and Vice President Al Gore. Allen-Diaz’s contributions focused on the effects of climate change on rangeland species and landscapes. She has authored more than 170 research articles and presentations. She has been an active member of the Society for Range Management, serving on its board of directors and on various government panels.
Allen-Diaz, who has served as UC ANR’s vice president since 2011, is also a tenured UC Berkeley faculty member in the College of Natural Resources and currently holds the prestigious Russell Rustici Chair in Rangeland Management. She has been with the University of California since 1986. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at UC Berkeley.
Researchers studying the fingerprint of human-caused climate change on extreme weather events in 2013 have found that it played a role in half of the events that they looked at, including the California drought and extreme heat events.
Climate change attribution — figuring out what role climate change is playing in our weather events — is a very difficult science. There are so many moving parts: ground-level weather conditions, large-scale atmospheric patterns, and global teleconnections, like El Nino, that influence weather worldwide. And a changing climate can influence all of them (or none of them) in any given moment.
Nonetheless, given how costly weather disasters have become, the question of how extreme events could be changing is possibly the most important question to ask in climate change. So each year, scientists take a look back at the way change change could have impacted a few notable extreme events, and publish their findings in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
One study in the report, which was released on Monday, concluded that “global warming has very likely increased the probability” of the large-scale atmospheric patterns that have played a role the current, historic California drought – a strong, persistent ridge of high pressure over the western U.S. has essentially blocked the region from being impacted by storms coming off the Pacific.
That ridging pattern, which lead to few precipitation events, was made more likely by the presence of human greenhouse gas emissions, the study says.
Two other studies that dug in to similar aspects of California drought were less eager to point the finger at human-caused climate change. Both studies looked at the role of warm ocean waters in the Pacific, and its relationship to California precipitation. While warm sea surface temperatures in the northeast Pacific would cause the dry ridging pattern over the western U.S., it would also act to cause heavier precipitation events over California by increasing the humidity.
While that’s not the outcome California saw in 2013 and the beginning of 2014, scientists say its enough of a question mark to remain uncertain on whether or not this event would have occurred without global warming.
However, it’s important to note that these studies looked at very specific, individual factors of the drought. California could be looking at its warmest year on record in 2014, but heat — which has a much more clear link with climate change, and acts to intensify and prolong a drought – was not considered in any of the studies looking at the California dry spell.
While drought remains somewhat of a question mark, scientists are most confident that the risk of 2013′s extreme heat events was made larger by human-caused climate change. All of the studies that looked at the extremely hot summers or heat waves around the globe concluded that climate change played some role in dialing up the temperature.
Australia, in particular, was severely impacted by heat extremes in the southern hemisphere summer of 2012-2013. The year was the hottest on record for the country, and subjected Australians to numerous heat waves and a drought that cost the government approximately $300 million USD. All of the studies that examined Australia’s summer temperatures found that climate change played a significant role in the heat, with one study even concluding that it has increased the risk of the event by two to three-fold.
“The results from the Australia studies are rather striking,” said Peter Stott of the Met Office Hadley Center in the U.K., and an editor in the report compilation in a press briefing. “It’s almost impossible, it’s very hard to imagine, those temperatures in a world without climate change.”
Hot summers and heat waves in New Zealand, Korea, China, and Japan were also examined, and determined to be influenced by climate change, and one group suggested that the Korea summer heat wave was made 10 times more likely by human-driven climate change.
The link between heavy precipitation events and human-caused climate change in 2013 appear to be more ambiguous.
Researchers who looked at the extreme precipitation events of 2013 found varying results — two studies found that human-caused climate change increased the likelihood of heavy precipitation events in the U.S. and India, while another two found no discernible link between the extreme precipitation events in Europe and climate change. One study, which addressed the extreme flooding event in Colorado in September 2013, found that the probability of such an event has even decreased in climate change.
Unsurprisingly, scientists found that the occurrence of cold waves — long periods of abnormally cold weather — have become much less likely in the presence of global warming. In particular, scientists looked at the extremely cold winter of 2013 in the U.K., finding that the probability of that event has dropped 30-fold.
By Patrick Mulvaney, chef and restaurateur; The Sacramento Bee
When I read about climate change, I learn about rising sea levels and shrinking polar ice caps – problems for 100 years in the future. But when I talk to my friends and customers about climate change, the focus is on what is happening today. It seems little things are already adding up.
As a chef, I have always believed that the completed dish will only be as good as the ingredients used. The bounty of the 12-month growing season is the main reason we decided to open our restaurant here in Sacramento. Because of our close relationships with local farmers, our “supply chain” is basically a truck and the farmer’s market. We can see how the drought has affected their crops.
Three years of drought have taken a toll on the ranchers and farmers we depend on. Lack of rain to refill the state’s reservoirs has reduced water levels to historic lows. Some water allocations have been cut entirely, and most farmers have been forced to scale back on planting. Forty-five percent of rice land went unplanted this year; farmers were forced to sell off cattle this spring. Researchers at UC Davis estimate that drought will prevent farmers from planting nearly 430,000 acres and cost the state $2.2 billion.
This isn’t just a Sacramento problem; it will affect the whole country. California grows nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, including 70 percent of the lettuce, 76 percent of the avocados, 90 percent of the grapes and virtually all of the almonds. Unfavorable conditions in California mean higher prices for restaurants across the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said produce prices could increase 5 to 6 percent this year. Even though beef prices are at historically high levels, the drought has raised the prices of feed even higher, forcing ranchers to sell the majority of their herds. A few years ago, the U.S. had 102 million head of cattle. That number is now under 88 million and dropping. It’s the smallest herd since 1951, so prices keep rising.
In addition to drought, climate change is causing other kinds of severe weather swings. Last winter was unusually brutal in the Midwest, causing an almost complete failure of the cherry crop and raising doubts about harvests for the rest of the tree fruits this summer.
In some ways, we are lucky at my restaurant; our daily-changing menus have allowed us to respond to climate disruptions. And while we continue to serve the best of what’s coming out of the nearby land, some items have become harder to find at a reasonable price. During the past year, restaurants have changed their menus to reflect higher meat prices, sudden collapses in citrus yields and the lack of products as farmers are forced to let their land lie fallow.
I worry that extreme weather, like California’s drought, may become the new normal. Our agricultural partners face the greatest risks. Many businesses will experience climate change through limited supply and poor supply-chain quality.
There’s something we can do about this. California has long been a national leader on clean-energy policies. Gov. Jerry Brown is supportive of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations that will reduce carbon pollution. He said, “Clean-energy policies are already working in California, generating billions of dollars in energy savings and more than a million jobs. Bold, sustained action will be required at every level, and this is a major step forward.”
Now is the time to continue California’s clean-energy leadership tradition by implementing changes that encourage business leaders to use resources more efficiently. This will help prevent more extreme weather events and make our economy more resilient.
USDA Provides Water Assistance Aid to 73,000 Rural Californians Impacted by Drought
FARMERSVILLE, Calif., July 18, 2014 -USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced USDA is providing $9.7 million in emergency water assistance to 73,000 residents in 11 California counties experiencing the driest year on record.
“This drought is devastating those who live, work and raise their families in much of rural California,” Vilsack said. “It is threatening the survival of whole communities and livelihoods of folks throughout the state. From Siskiyou County in the north to Kern County in the south, this disaster is crippling communities up and down the 600-mile spine of California.
“The emergency water grants we are announcing today are triple the amount we committed to when President Obama and I visited the state earlier this year,” Vilsack added. “I am proud of the work USDA Rural Development staff in California and Washington, D.C., have done to get this funding to those in need and the work they have done with municipal leaders in these rural communities to help residents, businesses and agricultural producers.”
Extreme weather, such as the intense drought occurring in the western United States, is putting a strain on water supplies. The Obama Administration is committed to increasing investments in the nation’s water infrastructure to mitigate the impact of climate change and to ensure that all Americans have adequate, safe and reliable water supplies. The National Climate Assessment released earlier this year illustrates the impact of climate change across the country.
This announcement is part of broader Obama Administration efforts to help those impacted by the drought. Through the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, local governments, agriculture and other partners on a coordinated response.
The 25 rural California communities are being helped by funding provided through USDA’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) program. This program helps rural communities that have experienced a significant decline in the quantity or quality of drinking water due to an emergency. In January, USDA streamlined the program’s application process to expedite emergency water assistance to communities in need, particularly in drought-impacted areas.
In addition to support from the ECWAG program, USDA is helping rural communities meet their water needs through Water and Waste Disposal loans and grants and Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households (SEARCH) grants. USDA Rural Development has also approved grant funding to establish a revolving fund to provide low-interest loans to rural homeowners for household water wells.
For example, the small community of Cameron Creek Colony in Tulare County is struggling due to severe drought. About 10 percent of its residents have no access to water because their wells have run dry. Others have only intermittent access.
The city of Farmersville, Calif., is receiving a $500,000 ECWAG grant to construct pipelines connecting Cameron Creek Colony to the Farmersville water main and linking residents to the water system. This will provide much-needed relief throughout the community.
The grants announced today are contingent upon the recipients meeting the terms of the grant agreement.
Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA Rural Development has invested more than $310 million to help 345,000 rural Californians receive improved water or wastewater services.
As California suffers through this drought, the Administration has taken action to help those struggling to cope with the hardships it has caused, including:
Designated 57 counties as disaster areas, making farmers and ranchers eligible for emergency loans.
Targeted $25 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices to conserve water, protect fields from erosion and improve access to water for livestock.
Invested $5 million in emergency watershed protection.
Provided $7.6 million to livestock producers through the cost-sharing Emergency Conservation Program.
Invested $750,000 to reduce aquatic weeds clogging irrigation screens, pumps and canals in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River delta.
Set aside $3.3 million of a $30 million national investment to mitigate wildfire threats, protect water resources and provide habitat for at-risk species.
Made continuing research investments in water conservation and use efficiency, as well as capacity grants for the University of California’s Institute for Water Resources.
Established a network of climate hubs, including a sub-hub in Davis, for risk adaptation and mitigation to climate change.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.
The consensus is overwhelming: our climate is changing. According to NASA’s Global Climate Change website, “97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”
Adapting to climate change is critical at all levels of our economy, including ensuring a secure food supply in the future.
For the first time, the Local Government Commission in partnership with the State of California will be holding the California Adaptation Forum. The two-day event is designed to engage a diverse mix of attendees to create a comprehensive network with a shared, strong commitment to addressing climate risks. It will be held in Sacramento on August 19-20, 2014.
Registration for the forum is now open with early registration rates ending on July 18th, 2014. This event is very timely and builds off last year’s successful National Adaptation Forum.
The event will include agriculture/food-focused sessions such as:
How Local Food System Planning Can Create More Resilient Communities
The Role of California Rangelands in Adapting to Climate Change
Reclaiming Energy: Farms, Forests and Waste Streams
CDFA has engaged growers on identifying potential adaptation measures, which are highlighted in the Climate Change Consortium Final Report. The California Adaptation Forum will continue this discussion in a highly useful way, for the benefit of our children and future generations that will call California home.