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.”

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LINKS:

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

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California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit

Source: Edward Ortiz; The Fresno Bee

California’s evolving cap-and-trade market may soon have a new player: rice farmers.

A proposal by the California Air Resources Board staff, up for board approval in September, would allow rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley to sell carbon emission offsets as part of the state’s effort to combat climate change.

Rice farmers would flood their fields for shorter periods, which would reduce the decomposition process that emits methane – a potent greenhouse gas.

Businesses seeking to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions could buy credits from the farmers who had made gains in curbing pollution.

“The rice cultivation protocol is the first time rice practices have been identified as a potential source of greenhouse gas emission mitigation for California,” said Dave Clegern of the Air Resources Board.

The program, called the Rice Cultivation Projects Compliance Offset Protocol, is slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, and run for a 10-year period. State air quality officials and environmental groups say other crops could eventually be included in cap and trade as well.

“I think this rice protocol sets an important precedent for agriculture,” said Robert Parkhurst, director of agriculture and greenhouse gas markets for the Environmental Defense Fund. The nonprofit has been working with the California Rice Commission and the Air Resources Board to craft the program.

Rice was selected as the first crop because it’s a potent contributor of methane – a greenhouse gas implicated in climate change.

Methane is produced when rice farmers flood fields during spring seeding and prior to fall harvest. Flooding cuts off the soil’s exposure to oxygen. This causes anaerobic fermentation of the organic matter in the soil. Methane is an end product of that fermentation. The methane is released into the atmosphere primarily through the rice plant. A smaller portion bubbles up from the soil and escapes through the water.

The cap-and-trade program, launched in 2013, is an outgrowth of the state’s emissions-reducing law, AB 32. The program caps overall greenhouse gas emissions at a lower level each year. It allows industries to buy pollution allowances, within a certain limit, to offset their own release of greenhouse gases.

Farmers are largely exempt from cap and trade, and the offset program is voluntary for rice farmers. In order to sell credits, they will need to prove they changed the way they flooded their fields and reduced the amount of methane emitted as a result. The reductions will be measured using a complex computer model with independent third-party verification before offset credits are issued, according to the air board.

Those reductions can then be sold as part of the cap-and-trade program – at a market rate.

“For this to be successful, we’re going to need to see a group of farmers get together to cooperate in order to create these projects,” said Parkhurst. “The opportunity is large because there are a large number of acres, but the credits per acre (figure) is on the small side.”

The amount of methane that can be reduced would be about a half a ton to a ton per acre per year, said Parkhurst.

“What we would like is to take the opportunity with rice and see how it can be applied to other crops in other regions,” Parkhurst said.

He said that almonds are among a few crops now being considered for involvement in the cap-and-trade program. The Environmental Defense Fund has been working with the California Almond Board on a proposal.

That program would likely address fertilizer application practices in almond cultivation and their contribution to greenhouse gases.

The ARB is offering rice farmers two options under the new program. The first is a process called ‘dry seeding’ – where water is put on rice fields later during seeding season. The other demands farmers drain rice fields seven to 10 days earlier than usual.

Most of the 550,000 acres of rice planted in the state is in the Sacramento Valley, and most of that is grown by farmers who flood their fields – typically to a depth of 4 to 5 inches prior to seeding

Many unresolved factors could limit enthusiasm among rice farmers for the program, said Tom Butler, owner of the Sutter Basin rice farm corporation.

Butler grows 4,000 acres of rice and 265 acres of almonds several miles south of the Sutter County town of Robbins. He’s one of four farmers participating in a pilot program begun in March as part of the cap-and-trade effort with rice farmers.

The new practices suit his farm because his soil drains much more quickly than most rice farms in the Sacramento Valley. He said he thinks other farmers will be wary about draining their fields.

“Pulling water on and off can cause some serious nitrogen and erosion problems for your rice if you are not careful,” said Butler. “I would not have jumped into it feet first if we did not have the soil we have.”

If a lot of farmers sign up, however, the drying of their land could cause another environmental problem. Flooded rice fields provide more than 300,000 acres of wetland habitat for waterfowl and other birds that travel through the Sacramento Valley on the Pacific Flyway.

For now the air resources agency has decided to exclude winter flooding of rice fields from the cap-and-trade program. It is winter flooding – and not flooding during spring seeding or before harvest – that provides the most crucial wetland habitat for bird populations.

Butler said he’s decided to participate in the cap-and-trade program more for altruistic reasons than financial ones.

“I think about this as the right thing to do,” Butler said. “We’re trying our best to be good stewards of the land, and produce a crop … and this program could be a next step for us.”

 

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