Working with Agriculture to Meet Environmental Goals

Working with Stewards of California’s Farmland to Meet Environmental Goals

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

If you give a farmer a goal, they will most likely strive to meet it—even exceed it—as long as it fosters great stewardship of their land and allows them to sustainably farm into the future.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) logo

Eric Holst, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund‘s working lands program, and an expert in developing strategies for environmental management on working forest, farms, and ranches, has an important view of the California Agriculture industry. “It’s an incredibly important industry. It’s greater than $56 billion net for California farmers. I think, even more important than the monetary value, is the land and the water that it touches,” said Holst.

Holst’s career has focused on improving livelihoods and environmental conditions in rural places in the U.S. and Latin America. Appointed as a member of the California Board of Food and Agriculture by Governor Jerry Brown for his ability to effectively communicate with a wide variety of constituents on difficult environmental issues, Holst elaborated, “Farmers and ranchers in California have a lot of influence on how we manage land, how we manage our landscapes, how we manage our waterways. It’s incredibly important to weigh in on policy issues that relate to agriculture in California.” california-farmland

Based in Sacramento, Holst knows how pervasive California agriculture is, spanning the state from the Mexican border to the Oregon border. “About 45% of California is in privately-held working lands—land managed by farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners,” Holst noted. Holst and his team interfaced with these private landowners to map a big part of it.

Holst, who also serves as director of the Forest Stewards Guild and American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI), explained, while these landowners have a lot of freedom about how to manage their land, “It’s probably the most highly regulated place in the world in terms of environmental performance.” Despite regulatory constraint on land management decisions, Holst believes, “there’s a lot of room to make decisions that can either help or harm the environment.”

Holst reflected, “It is really an important role that we have on the CDFA Board to weigh in and try to push California in the right direction.” Ultimately, in Holst’s experience, “If you set a goal and then allow farmer, rancher or forest landowner to figure out how to meet that goal, that’s probably the best way,” said Holst.

“Conditions are different on every farm, every ranch,” Holst stated. “I think it’s important to set standards high. I think California has higher standards than just about anywhere else. We want to develop policies and implementation of policies that will give a lot of flexibility to the individual operator. That tends to be, in my experience, the system that works best,” he noted.

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USDA NRCS Works To Increase Diversity

NRCS Conducts Outreach for Diversity

 

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. Elisabeth “Elise” Miller, is an area engineer for the entire Southern California region. “I also serve my agency as the NRCS-California LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager, a collateral duty that I perform on several levels to increase diversity,” said Miller.

 

“First, I work to educate employees within my agency, to make them better informed and more in tune to language,” Miller explained. “Then, I work to get a more diversified workforce within the USDA,” she added, to make the organization stronger and better.

 

Unlock the secrets in the soil diversity

“My efforts might include going to a university,” she elaborated, “trying to tie in with their resource center and encouraging more people who identify as LGBT to apply for federal jobs. Our colleges, the University of California (UC) and the California State (Cal State) University system, have a lot of really good, positive and powerful resource centers that I’m hoping will continue to help us with our outreach and pull more people in who want to work for us.”

 

“Certainly we do have human resources,” commented Miller. “And we do a lot of outreach. With California being so large and so diverse,” Miller said, “it is hard to reach out to everybody. We have to start with the big UC schools first. We also try to reach out to universities such as Fresno State, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo or Pomona or UC Davis, or Humboldt State. Those would be schools that certainly we want to outreach to and try to bring more of those graduating students in under our fold.”

 

“My agency is a very technical agency,” said Miller. “We work on conservation-type issues—resource issues that farmers, ranchers or private landowners might deal with—requiring an agronomist, biologist or soil scientist. I often go out with a multi-disciplinary team and meet with a farmer, rancher, or just a landowner.”

 

“Every farmer I meet has some kind of issue,” Miller commented, “whether it’s pest management, whether it’s dealing with manure management or an erosion issue that’s going on. If they have a hillside orchard, they have to deal with that.”

 

“And obviously they focus a lot on drought management and water conservation,” Miller explained, “A lot of these farmers of course are forced to use groundwater, which is depleting the groundwater sources and may be causing irreparable damage.

 

We work cooperatively to try to help them resolve their land issues. That’s what I like about my agency—that we’re invited there. We’re not there to push a regulation. We’re there to help them to better manage. They always maintain control of their decision making. We try to give them options available and we have cost share programs to assist them, if something is identified. We work towards developing conservation plans on the property.”

 

The agency is also responsible for the soil survey work. “We map the soils five feet deep,” said Miller, “to gather information, resource information, which has worked fantastically well for a farmer to know what kind of soil he’s dealing with. It may make a difference on how a farmer irrigates. It may be why he’s having a problem with a crop or many other areas that could be helpful to them.”

 

“We are in the community. We’re very much aware; we know who the farmers are, we know what the issues are and we work with farmers to try to address their land problems. We don’t just pop in and then pop out,” Miller said.


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRSC) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources with voluntary programs and science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. 

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