California Agricultural Vision: Progress Report

California Agricultural Vision: Progress Report

As a follow-up to the 2010 report California Agriculture Vision: Strategies for Sustainability, American Farmland Trust published a 2012 progress report, California Agriculture Vision: Progress Report. The original Report had articulated twelve strategies for improving sustainability. In this blog post, I will reflect on the three strategies previously touched on in my first blog post: Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches, Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs, and Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change.

Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches

The Progress Report identified a number of model efforts where farms have been implementing environmental strategies to expand environmental stewardship. For example, a number of institutions, including producers, buyers, and public interest groups developed the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC), a measure of sustainable performance throughout the supply chain of specialty crops (fruits, vegetables and nuts). The purpose of the index is to allow farmers to optimize production with strong environmental protections by offering indicators of farm practices related to use of water, nitrogen and other inputs and outputs.  The California Roundtable on Ag and the Environment (CRAE) initiative is another place where progress is evident. CRAE connects agriculture and environmental leaders so that they can touch base and work together on issues.  One issue that CRAE has focused on is how to increase water availability throughout the state, especially by enhancing the management of the Sierra headwaters.  These farming leaders will help provide other farmers and ranchers with models for how to become more sustainable.

Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs

In order to decrease the use of fossil fuels, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), EPA, and USDA have sought to consolidate permitting requirements for methane digesters on dairy farms. (Methane digesters convert livestock manure into renewable energy to power farms and export to the electric grid.) Furthermore, CDFA and the California Energy Commission have been engaged in identifying the challenges and potential opportunities of biofuels in California, including the possibility of commercializing biofuels and biofuel feedstocks.  Another step taken by the State to support renewable energy was SB 618, which will boost solar photovoltaic energy facilities on farmland.

Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change

A variety of organizations have engaged in discussions and conferences to implement plans to combat climate change. In 2011, CDFA and the State Board on Food and Agriculture sponsored expert discussions about the extreme climate risks and California’s future agriculture and food systems. The meeting allowed the public to listen to climate change experts and speak to the Board about their concerns. Additionally, Governor Brown held a conference on extreme climate risks and California’s future including agriculture. The conference focused on the best ways to protect the state and adapt to extreme weather events. Even Bank of America, in collaboration with UC Berkeley and UCLA, had many meetings and even prepared their own report outlining the impacts climate change has on California’s agriculture industry. Farmers and ranchers face many obstacles due to climate change, but farmers can control their contribution to greenhouse gases. Further, they address issues with reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, such as lack of research, insufficient financing, regulatory conflicts, and lack of awareness. Consequently, all of these discussions help promote research and awareness which encourages more sustainable practices.

Key Takeaway

Personally, before reading these reports I was not aware of some of the programs in place to promote the environment within the agriculture industry, such as CRAE and the Stewardship Index for specialty crops. I think programs that make it easier for farmers and ranchers to implement environment practices will be the most beneficial such as the Stewardship Index. Moreover, I believe consumers can play a huge role in holding the industry accountable and buying from farmers that use environmentally friendly practices. Further, I believe in Ag Vision’s goal to make sure these programs stay volunteer measures. Most farmers and ranchers want to protect the environment since they rely heavily on it. Also, in my experience most are open to implementing environmental practices that they believe really help the environment. Having the research and information to back up certain environmental practices will be crucial to getting more in the industry to implement these practices.

Haley Costamagna

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