California Agricultural Vision: Strategies for Sustainability

Strategies For Sustainability 

In 2017, American Farmland Trust published the report, California Agriculture Vision: Strategies for Sustainability, a report making recommendations regarding the strategies the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the State Board of Food and Agriculture should implement in order to address challenges and assure the sustainability of California agriculture. In response, both state agencies developed the “California Agricultural Vision,” Twelve strategies designed to enhance sustainability. The American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization, was given the responsibility of managing the Ag Vision process. Three of those strategies – Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches, Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs, and Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change — are worth a more careful examination here.

Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches

Farmers and Ranchers have been working to enhance environmental quality and to reduce their impact on air, water, and living systems. Becoming more environmentally friendly seems to be a double edged sword, however. On one hand, environmental stewardship is likely to produce economic benefits through reduced costs for inputs such as energy, water, and agrichemicals. On the other hand, there are financial and time costs associated with complying with environmental laws and regulations. As a long term strategy of turning this tension into an opportunity for California agriculture, the Trust recommended that CDFA and the Ag industry turn the state’s sustainability objective and environmental standards into a California “brand.” To achieve this goal, the Trust suggested that the CDFA work with private agricultural institutions and nonprofit organizations on documenting their efforts to improve environmental quality, thus enhancing the visibility of success stories and the value of the brand.  Moreover, the Trust also suggested voluntary assessment and seeking federal funding for promoting environmental performance.

Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs

Agriculture is heavily reliant on fossil-derived inputs and has a significant economic stake in using renewable sources of energy. The Trust recommended that the State Board take immediate action by appointing a task force to investigate how the agriculture industry could reduce fossil fuel-derived inputs. The Trust suggested a “win-win” outcome if renewable sources of energy could be created from processes that occur naturally on farms and ranches such as biomass, a euphemism for animal manure and waste, and the methane that is created. Utilizing methane from manure instead of traditional fossil fuel inputs, such as natural gas or oil, could not only save farmers money but also lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the significant contribution of methane to climate change.

Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change

Established science is predicting that the long-term effects of climate change will result in the reduction of water supplies, increase plant heat stress, decrease nighttime cooling, and shift pollinator life cycles. Since California agriculture accounts for about six percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions, in the form of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, the industry is both a contributor and a victim of climate change. The Trust recommended that the state board survey existing studies, on-going research, and projects and take other practical steps to assess the potential impact of climate change on California agriculture. After all, understanding the contribution and effects of climate change on California agriculture is a key step in formulating appropriate responses.

Key Takeaway

Just like other industries, agriculture is trying to develop and promote ways to reduce its impact on the environment. Most farmers and ranchers do not want more regulations that add paperwork on top of their day-to-day work. However, most farmers are interested in making a positive impact on the environment and are always looking for ways to be more efficient. Developing plans and options reducing the need for regulation while encouraging sound environmental stewardship of the environment will ultimately serve everybody’s interests.

Haley Costamagna

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