Are EDF and Farmers on Same Page?

Are EDF and California Farmers on Same Page?

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) wants clean air and water, abundant fish and water life, a stable climate. California farmers want clean air and water, abundant wildlife, a stable climate with enough rain and snow for everyone, plus a good harvest so they can provide the nutritious food everyone needs to thrive. Are EDF and California farmers on the same page?

Meet Sara Kroopf, agriculture project manager with the Environmental Defense Fund’s San Francisco office. Kroopf’s expertise in agriculture economics, sustainable agriculture systems and corporate social responsibility, combined with her emphasis on building relationships with agricultural producers places her not only on the same page with California farmers, but on the same side of science.

Kroopf became interested in agriculture at an early age. “My best friend was the Dairy Princess,” she explained, “who has a thousand-head dairy facility in upstate New York. I think she is really the inspiration for my education and why I want to work in food and ag.”

Kroopf is amazed by California agriculture because it is very different. “The diversity,” she stated, “over 400 specially crops—is incredible! “I went to grad school at UC Davis because I had heard of the wonderful things that were out here, and I’ve stayed because I know there is a lot of innovation in California agriculture. It is the place to be.”

“I also spent some time working with a biopesticide company and learned about Asian Citrus Psyllid. So being in Kern County, learning about realities on the ground and the fight against the invasive Asian Citrus Psyllid, I think that was a good experience for me.”

Commenting on California farmers, Kroopf said, “I think we are doing a great job in California, and people don’t see that enough. I find myself in my urban community, now that I live in Oakland, California, trying to communicate about the realities of drought, the harsh realities that some farmers are seeing, but also the success and resilience of those communities. It is critical to have that dialogue at these times.”

Kroopf knows that farming should continue uninterrupted, “not only here, but in other places as well. Otherwise, we are not going to have a successful 2050 and feed the population. I mean, America has done a great job, historically; we have been feeding the world. But now it will become more challenging. I think we are up for the opportunity and like I said, California is leading the way.”

Kroopf commented about the flexibility of the California farmer to learn new things, such as a new way to apply fertilizer or conserve water, and the adaptability to take them on. “Having access to information is key. Historically, farmers didn’t necessarily know how much nitrogen to apply. And farmers always want to reduce the input application costs as much as possible. I know growers are not being fast and loose with their nitrogen, but there is always an opportunity to improve, and I see that in my own life. I think that is in all professions; farmers are not the only ones.”

Kroopf is quite bullish on California agriculture, even with the drought years. “Absolutely, I do hope farming continues here. The climate is right, and I want to be here, so I hope the drought doesn’t last too long.”

When asked about California farmers, Kroopf replied, “They are the smartest business people that I know. Someone once said, and I don’t know whom to quote, ‘farming is not rocket science, it is harder than rocket science.’ I honestly believe that. So of course, they are extremely intelligent. They deal with more variables in their work than pretty much anyone else.”

_____________________

LINKS:

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

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Farmers Are Doing the Right Thing for Dry Creek

Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Works With Growers to Clean up Dry Creek

By Laurie Greene, Editor, CaliforniaAgToday.com

Wayne Zipser is the Executive Director of the Stanislaus Farm Bureau and co-founder of the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition. Wayne spoke with California Ag Today about his work with both organizations and how farmers are doing the right thing.

Zipser addressed new nitrogen reporting standards for members of the coalition, “We’re the very first coalition in the Central Valley that will be required to report nitrogen use and that’s one of the things growers probably have not had to do yet. Right now they have to do their farm evaluation plans; they were due last year, but they had to be renewed this year.”

“The other coalitions will follow suit,” he said, “but we are the first coalition to require this for our growers. We’ve been successful; we’ve had success stories on a lot of our watersheds and we’ve actually improved our water quality. Part of being the first kids on the block is seeing the success stories,” Zipser said.

“One of the success stories involves Modesto’s Dry Creek, which was impaired with crop protection materials. Four years ago, the regional water board told us that we had to come up with a mitigation plan for all of our impaired water bodies. Well, all of them are impaired, so we had to create a priority list, and Dry Creek was one of the top priority watersheds in Modesto,” Zipser said.

“We visited with every grower along Dry Creek, just to let them know what the problems were and what we were finding. They generated their own solutions or we suggested some best management practices to mitigate problems. For the last two-and-a-half to three years, we have shown zero exceedences in the pesticides we are monitoring,” Zipser said.

“Farmers are out there doing the right thing. We showed them each problem, and they fixed it on their own. It doesn’t necessarily take rules and regulations to force people to do things. I congratulate all those farmers along Dry Creek. We also addressed issues along Lateral 5 on the Turlock Irrigation District.  As we continue to visit more the watersheds,” Zipser said, “we talk to those growers and see extreme improvements,” he said.

Zipser emphasized that most farmers just needed to be alerted about a watershed problem, and they readily collaborated to fix it. “They are all concerned about it,” he said. They all want to make sure they are doing the right thing. They also don’t want to lose access to the materials they have now, so they don’t want them to flow into the waterway and cause a problem down the road. I’ll tell you, it reinvigorates my belief that people want to do the right thing.”

Zipser acts as a grower representative of the Coalition, “If a grower has questions on how to fill out forms or on compliance issues, they can call me at the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau office.”

 

Contact Information:

Stanislaus County Farm Bureau

1201 L Street

PO Box 3070

Modesto, CA 95353-3070

(209) 522-7278 Phone

(209) 521-9938 Fax

Email: programs@stanfarmbureau.org

http://www.stanfarmbureau.com/index.htm

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Building Trust Between California Farmers and Consumers

William Clark, Harvard Professor, on Building Trust Between California Farmers and Consumers

By Courtney Steward, Assistant Editor

Social and conventional media are sharing widespread and varied opinions about California farmers and farming across the Central Valley and beyond, using soundbites in place of fact-based dialogue.

William Clark, Harvard Professor
William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

At a recent workshop called “Food for a Healthy World: Monitoring Progress Towards Food Security,” sponsored by the UC Davis World Food Center and the UC Agricultural Issues Center, William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, at first appeared to dodge giving his opinion. “It would be dumb beyond belief for me to have opinions about farmers in California,” explained Clark, “except I enjoy what they produce.”

The goal for the group of campus and visiting experts who attended the workshop was to reach agreement on the major factors that must be considered to sustainably feed the world’s population. “The reason I’m here,” he said, “is because I work on sustainable development issues broadly, and much of what is going on here in California in the farming sector as well as in the energy sector are some of the most fascinating and useful experiments anywhere—in grappling with these issues. And I come out fairly frequently to UC Davis because I find it a wonderful point of contact with the farming community here. I’ve borrowed some UC Davis students, and I learn a lot when I visit.”

Clark explained, “I think California is a state that obviously thinks hard about how it can be a productive, vibrant economy, while taking care of the environment and of the people,” evidenced by great creativity and ingenuity among California farmers and researchers. “My colleague, Tom Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis recently co-authored one of the first peer-reviewed articles* to emanate from the California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA), an ongoing project at UC Davis.”

Assessment research indicates that while there are many pathways through which nitrogen can enter the environment, inorganic fertilizer use is responsible for the largest fraction of new nitrogen introduced in California annually. Currently, over 600,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizer are sold in the state each year.

Tomich maintains that better nitrogen use information is indispensable for the collaborative development of effective solutions to increase nitrogen use efficiency and save farmers money. The article describes both how nitrogen flows in crop production, but also how farmers can limit the flows that create problems in the environment.  Also included are recommendations on how data could be better compiled to improve understanding of statewide trends in fertilizer use.

Clark claimed, “That’s the best nitrogen study that’s been done anywhere in the world in terms of showing how farmers are working and could be working to capture the benefits of fertilizer without offsite damages to the environment.”

Regarding these offsite flows, Clark emphasized, “I’ve almost never met a farmer who does not care deeply about the land, or the fisher about the health of the fishery or of the sea. And I think sometimes the debates that between the conservation and farm communities go completely nuts on this,” Clark explained. “I mean, you start with somebody who is making their living—has chosen a life—on the land. That’s where you start.”

“That said, all of us end up sometimes doing stuff that has some consequences we didn’t intend,” stated Clark. “I look to the science community to help all of us, including farmers, see some of the downsides of some of the practices that we do that are invisible. So, perhaps science discovers this chemical we thought was safe turns out not to be safe. Or the way we are turning over our crops has impacts on biodiversity that we didn’t know about.”

“But again,” Clark continued, “it’s the responsibility of my community, the science community, to bring those invisible but measurable discoveries into light in a conversation with farmers to reach a joint understanding of why one might want to use less of these applications and how one could use less of them while still turning out an attractive crop.”

Clark said it’s been his experience that most growers listen and try new approaches.

Clark concluded that trust between farmers, consumers, retailers, and health advocates is an all-time low. “I think  food is one of the most complicated personal issues there is. If I were trying to build trust in an arena, there’s none harder, except maybe nuclear energy, than food issues. I think we all know that we have had less dialog and more soundbite exchange, and I don’t think any side is blameless.”

“My pitch here,” Clark summarized, “is simply I don’t see how we can move forward without starting meaningful dialogues that aren’t soundbites.” Clarke wants to inspire people to ask themselves, “What am I worried about?” instead of throwing blurbs into the middle of a on-air radio conversation. He elaborated, “Whether I’m a consumer advocate, a farmer, or a retailer, ‘What am I worried about? What do I think you guys are doing that I wish you weren’t doing?’ We aren’t brain dead; we should be able to work together, as long as we can talk instead of yell.”

 

*Rosenstock T, Liptzin D, Six J, Tomich T. 2013. Nitrogen fertilizer use in California: Assessing the data, trends and a way forward. Cal Ag 67(1):68-79. DOI: 10.3733/ca.E.v067n01p68.

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