North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Looks for Solutions

Solutions From The Land on System Implementation

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke with Ernie Shea, president of Solutions From the Land. He explained the importance of system implementation and the North American Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance.

“Our primary areas of focus at the moment are clean energy, climate change, and soil and water conservation in the 21st century,” he said.

They are integrating these areas of focus and the systems involved. There is still a need to find a solution for profitability.

“The biggest and important areas of focus is finding a way to respond to the changing climatic conditions and deliver solutions that create wealth and job opportunities for agriculture,” Shea said.

North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance is looking for ways to deliver solutions.

“We have created the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, and it is the continental platform for farm and conservation groups that are looking at ways these landscapes can deliver solutions,” Shea explained.

There are conversations taking place at the state level about becoming more sustainable, resilient, and participating in the low carbon economy.

“Carbon sequestration is one of the more exciting new areas of opportunity that are coming for agriculture,” Shea said.

Farming has been framed as a problem in the past.

“Oftentimes, we’re framed as the problem child,” Shea said.

When managing a farming operation, good solid conservation practices are important.

“No-till cover crops are an example that you are increasing the organic content. You are sequestering carbon at a scale that goes beyond what people originally gave us credit for it,” Shea explained.

Well-managed agricultural systems help on many levels. In the upper Midwest, there are continuous corn operations, even no-till corn operations.

“They were measuring the carbon content in the first meter, and they weren’t realizing that the root systems, we’re pulling carbon down well below one meter down to two meters in deeper,” Shea said.

These monoculture landscapes are labeled as something bad. This landscape, in particular, was a critically needed solution. Well-managed agricultural systems can deliver food, feed, fiber, energy, and environmental services.

“If we can figure out a way to create a monitoring and measuring system, then 21st-century agriculture will be seen as solutions, not defined as problems,” Shea said.

New Location for Center for Land-Based Learning Breaks Ground

$1.5 Million Lead Gift Launches Campaign for Center for Land-Based Learning’s New State Headquarters

News Release

The Center for Land-Based Learning announced a lead gift of $1.5 million from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation at a groundbreaking celebration today for the Center’s new site in Woodland.

The gift officially launches the Center for Land-Based Learning’s $4 million Growing Our Future Campaign to build a new statewide headquarters and expand its programs and services. In recognition of this generous gift, the Center for Land-Based Learning will name its new administrative building the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Farm House.

The Center For Land-Based Learning Groundbreaking today.

The groundbreaking, which coincided with the Center for Land-Based Learning’s 25th anniversary, took place on part of the original Patwin Tribal Land. The site, a historic 50-acre farm in Woodland known as The Maples, is owned by Clark Pacific, which is providing the Center with substantial support, including a no-cost, 25-year+ lease for major portions of the property and buildings.

“We are extremely grateful to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for their remarkable and inspiring gift,” said Center for Land-Based Learning Executive Director Mary Kimball. “Their donation, in conjunction with the generous support of Clark Pacific, gives us the capacity to train, support, and resource stewards as we look forward to the next 25 years.”

A rendering of the new Center For Land-Based Building.

The Center will include:

-Yocha Dehe Farm House — A 5,400 square-foot building to house new administrative offices, community services, and classrooms.
-New and existing barn buildings — For storing training equipment and supplies and housing a produce washing, packing, and cooling station.
-Three farm fields totaling 30 acres — This is six times more acreage than the current site in Winters.
-Cache Creek riparian habitat and restoration area — Nearly nine acres of creek-side habitat and floodplains for restoration education.
-Space for training in resource conservation and “beautification” — Landscaping and designated areas for farm and conservation training and education in aesthetically-designed spaces.

“The Yocha Dehe people have a deep connection with the land of the Capay Valley, where our ancestors lived for hundreds of years, and we are committed to protect and preserve it,” said Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Tribal Chairman Anthony Roberts. “One of the best ways we can do that is to work together as a community to educate about the importance of and ways for caring for the beautiful valley, soil, and environment around us. For 25 years, the Center for Land-Based Learning has led the way in developing agricultural leaders and natural resources stewards among us, and we are proud to partner with the organization to support what we are confident will be an incredible success over its next quarter century.”

Established in 1993 by walnut farmers Craig and Julie McNamara, the nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning inspires, educates, and cultivates future generations of farmers agricultural leaders, and natural resource stewards.

“Agriculture is our heritage and our future,” said Craig McNamara. “By training a new generation of farmers and decision makers, the Center is helping ensure the long-term prosperity of California. Their passion and their mission deserve our support.”

Eighteen New California Farm Academy Graduates!

Eighteen New Farmers Graduate from California Farm Academy

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

The California Farm Academy, a part-time, seven-month, beginning farmer training program run by the Land-Based Learning, graduated 18 new farmers on Sunday, September 18, 2016.

 

With more than 250 hours of classroom and field training behind them, these enterprising graduates were honored by notables such as Karen Ross, secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA); Craig McNamara, president and owner of Sierra Orchards, as well as president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture; Sri Sethuratnam, director, California Farm Academy (CFA); and Mary Kimball, executive director, Center for Land-Based Learning, based in Winters California.

new farmers graduate from California Farm Academy beginning farmer training program run by the Land-Based Learning.
Eighteen new farmers graduated from California Farm Academy’s beginning farmer training program run by the Center for Land-Based Learning.

 

“The impetus of our program,” said Christine McMorrow, director of development for Land-Based Learning, “is the need for more farmers as the current ones age out. According to the USDA, over 700,000 new farmers will be needed in the next 20 years to replace those who retire.

 

CFA teachers, farmers, academic faculty and staff, and agricultural, natural resource and business professionals, teach CFA students basic production agricultural practices; crop planning; soil science; pest management; organic agriculture; irrigation and water management; marketing; ecology and conservation; obtaining loans, insurance and permits; farm financials; human resource management; risk management; farm safety; regulatory compliance and problem-solving.

 

McMorrow stated, “These folks have been with us since February, following a rigorous application process. A lot of these folks either have land they have dreamed of farming but did not know how to put it into production. Some of them come from farming families, but they wanted to get involved in the family business on their own. They may have been in a different career and now want to do something new or different. Perhaps they haven’t studied agriculture or they have not seen much agriculture other than what their family does, so this is an opportunity for them to learn and to explore a new business idea.

 

“We only take people who are serious about production agriculture. This is not a program for somebody who thinks, ‘I’ve got an acre in my backyard and I really want to grow something.’ While that’s a cool thing to do, the academy is not for those people.”

 

“Our graduating farmers, who range in age from their late 20s to early 50s, each wrote a business plan and presented it to folks within the agriculture industry,” said McMorrow. “They also planted some of their own crops on a farm in Winters.

 

McMorrow elaborated, “These new farmers have been able to create their own networks, having made contact with more than 40 different folks within the agricultural industry throughout the time they spent with us. These networks include local farmers around Yolo County, Solano County, Sacramento County, and other regions, and will help our graduates realize their dreams.”

 

California Farm Academy (CFA) We grow farmers

“This is the fifth class that has graduated,” explained McMorrow, “and mind you, these folks are doing lots of different things. Some of them already have their own land, some are going to work for someone who has land, some will work other farmers, and some will go into a food-related business.”

 

“Still others will stay and lease small plots of land from us,” McMorrow commented, “to start their own farming business. Beginning farmers face huge barriers to getting started, the biggest of which is access to land, capital and infrastructure. So, to get their farming businesses started, California Farm Academy alumni are eligible to lease land at sites in West Sacramento, Davis and Winters at a very low cost.”


The Center for Land-Based Learning exists to cultivate opportunity.

For the land.

For youth.

For the environment.

For business.

For the economy.

For the future of agriculture.

Sustainable Farming: Let’s Focus on a Farm’s Performance, Not its Size

In case you missed it, we are posting the article, “Let’s Focus on a Farm’s Performance, Not its Size,” with permission, from Environmental Defense Fund’s Growing Returns blog.

By  | BIO
Lettuce
Credit: Flickr user Dwight Sipler

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.

Sharing responsibility4.1.1

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
  • Use strategically placed filters to capture excess nutrients.

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.

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*“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.

(Source: Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

Evapotranspiration (ET) is the amount of water transpired by plants, retained in plant tissues, and evaporated from plant tissues and surrounding soil surfaces.

(Sources: (1) California Water Plan Update 2009 Glossary. Department of Water Resources. Resources Agency. State of California; (2) Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

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.

(Sources: (1) California Water Plan Update 2009 Glossary. Department of Water Resources. Resources Agency. State of California; (2) Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

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.”

Context: Water Portfolio”1 (Source: Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

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)

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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.

New Farm Bill Resource Now Available to Help Farmers and Food Advocates Navigate USDA Programs

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) published a comprehensive digital guide to the key federal farm and food programs that support sustainable farm and food systems.  The Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs will help farmers and non-profit organizations navigate the numerous farm bill and other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that have been championed by NSAC.

“The Grassroots Guide will be a valuable resource for farmers as they look for opportunities and financing to grow their farms and help build a more sustainable farming system,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “The Guide is specifically targeted to the farming community and distills very technical federal policies and programs in a way that is accessible to farmers and consumers alike.”

The Grassroots Guide includes up-to-date information on conservation, credit, rural development, research, and food programs authorized in the farm bill and other pieces of federal legislation – including recent policy changes made in the 2014 Farm Bill.

This new resource details over 40 federal food and farm programs that provide funding to farmers and organizations for conservation assistance, farm real estate and operating loans, outreach to minority and veteran farmers, beginning farmer training programs, value-added enterprises, support for farmers markets and farm to school programs, and more.  The Guide is organized into the following topic areas:

  • Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
  • Conservation and Environment
  • Credit and Crop Insurance
  • Food Safety
  • Local and Regional Food Systems
  • Organic Production
  • Renewable Energy
  • Rural Development
  • Sustainable and Organic Research

For each program included, the Guide provides plain-language explanations of how the program works, who can utilize the program, examples of the program in action, step-by-step application instructions, additional resources, and a brief overview of the program’s history – including legislative and administrative changes and historical funding levels.