Sustainability is Focus of Solutions from the Land

Solutions From the Land Focuses on Sustainability

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Many California farmers are working toward a more sustainable future, according to Ernie Shea, president of Solutions From the Land.

“We are a North American climate-smart agriculture alliance that has come together with others,” Shea said.

Solutions from the Land, which has partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is the continental platform for farm and conservation groups that are looking at ways these landscapes can deliver solutions.

Solutions from the Land has been getting a lot of support from California.

“We’ve had the right enabling policy, and you’ve got a lot of that in California,” Shea said.

There have also been significant investments in technology and infrastructure that have allowed systems to deploy at scale. Solutions from the Land is producing wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, biofuels, or types of sustainable, domestically-produced energy sources.

“When we started, we were at about five percent renewables. Today, we’re in the twelve percent range. Twenty-five percent by 2025 is the new target that we established,” Shea explained.

Ernie Shea

“We have to be able to produce food and fiber with less water and with erratic conditions. There is a lot of conversation about how to adapt to these realities when you are right in the epicenter of drought, fire, and floods,” he said.

“Everything has become less predictable. Solutions From the Land is sponsoring state-level conversations around how to become more sustainable, resilient, and how to participate in the low carbon economy, biofuels, and renewable energy,” Shea added.

Carbon sequestration is one of the more exciting new areas of opportunity that are coming for agriculture. The focus is on farmers and what they care about.

“They care about resiliency, profitability, sustainability. An example of one of the pathways that we work on: initiatives like soil health programming,” Shea said.

This helps farmers realize that by improving the health of their soil and the organic content, the crops are doing a better job of soaking up whatever water does fall.

“They’re reducing the need to provide some inputs. They’re sequestering greenhouse gases. They’re delivering global solutions,” Shea explained.

Biomass Bill Passes Assembly

Biomass Bill (AB 590, Salas / Dahle) Protects Renewable Energy and Air Quality

SACRAMENTO – AB 590 will incentivize biomass utilization of agriculture waste and forest waste. The legislation will save jobs, divert biomass from landfills, and create renewable energy.

“Biomass power generation is a clean and efficient way to produce renewable energy and help improve our air. In fact, the Delano biomass facility has helped reduce 96 percent of the pollutants released from open-field burning. This facility alone converts 300,000 tons of agricultural waste per year into clean, renewable energy.” said Assemblymember Salas. “AB 590 provides the necessary structure and resources to protect and incentivize biomass power in California.”

Farms in Kern and Tulare Counties generate over 580,000 tons of woody waste annually, mostly from almond, peach, and nectarine orchards. In the past, most of this material has been burned openly in the fields. Open burning of wood residues produces up to 100 times more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than biomass power plants, which convert wood into renewable energy. The Delano biomass facility reduces 96 percent of the pollutants released in open-field burning; leading local air quality management officials to call Covanta Delano “a stationary air pollution control device.”

In addition to air quality benefits, the biomass plants produce a steady flow of reliable, renewable, baseload electric power regardless of natural external conditions, like wind, sun and water flow. The plants also help ensure that the state meets its current renewable energy portfolio standard of 33 percent by the 2020 statutory deadline.

“In the past few years we have seen the catastrophic results of forests that are too loaded with forest fuels. The people of my district have lived in a cloud of smoke, as thousands of acres have burned destroying lives, property, critical animal habitat, ruining our watersheds and wasting valuable resources,” said Assemblyman Dahle. “I introduced AB 590 to address this crisis. The bill is now on to the Senate with bipartisan support from the Assembly, where I hope to see it receive the same support.”

Currently, California biomass plants use more than eight million tons of wood waste as fuel. About 3.7 million tons represent urban wood waste kept out of landfills, helping local governments meet disposal mandates.

Biomass plants across the state employ approximately 700 people directly, as well as 1,000 to 1,500 other workers in dedicated indirect jobs. Many are in economically hard-pressed rural communities where the plants are one of the largest private employers.

Unfortunately, the 25 plants that convert biomass waste into energy are at serious risk of closure without decisive action by the State Legislature and the Governor. In the past year, five plants closed. AB 590 would allocate part of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) revenue to defer the costs of operating these plants.

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Assemblymember Salas represents part of the City of Bakersfield, the cities of Arvin, Avenal, Corcoran, Delano, Hanford, Lemoore, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco, and the communities of Armona, Buttonwillow, Home Garden, Kettleman City, Lamont, Lost Hills, Stratford and Weedpatch

Assemblymember Dahle represents Alturas, Anderson, Butte County (Portions), Colfax, Dunsmuir, Grass Valley, Lassen County, Modoc County, Montague, Mount Shasta, Nevada City, Nevada County, Placer County (Portions), Plumas County, Portola, Redding, Shasta County, Shasta Lake, Sierra County, Siskiyou County, Truckee, Weed, Yreka

(Photo: Covanta Biomass Plant, Delano, CA)

Contact: Jillian Rice. (661) 335-0302

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.