Agriculture: Part of the Climate Solution | Civil Eats

Agriculture: Part of the Climate Solution

Last week’s California Climate and Agriculture Summit, hosted by the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), made three things clear: California agriculture has a lot to lose if climate change is not addressed; agriculture can be part of the solution; there is a science gap and a practice gap, and more resources are needed to close them both.

The Summit took place at UC Davis on March 31 and the 200 participants included a diverse range of farmers and ranchers, researchers, non-profit staff, government agency representatives, and agricultural business people.

CalCAN began the day by releasing a new report entitled Ready…Or Not? An Assessment of California Agriculture’s Readiness for Climate Change. The report assessed the adequacy and availability of resources for California agriculture to address climate change. Specifically, it looked at how much California-based scientific research is available on agricultural practices that mitigate climate change and help farmers adapt, the amount of technical assistance available to growers, and the level of direct payments to growers for climate-friendly conservation practices. The findings? Not reassuring. Here’s a sample:

  • There are currently only 39 publicly funded studies that examined agricultural adaptation and/or mitigation to climate change;
  • Of these, only 10 percent examined organic systems, which science is finding have significant climate benefits;
  • Budget cuts have decimated the state’s Cooperative Extension services, historically a major source of technical assistance for California’s producers; and
  • Unlike several other agricultural states, California lacks state-funded direct incentive programs for producers to adopt on-farm conservation programs. In 2009, the USDA’s farm bill conservation program had insufficient funding for 70 percent of the California farmers and ranchers who applied.

The necessity to more adequately respond to this lack of preparation was underscored with a few recurring themes at the Summit.

First, the science on agriculture and climate mitigation, though continuing to improve, is still somewhat contradictory and complex, and it lacks a sustainable agriculture focus. A presentation by Dr. Michel Cavigelli from the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, presented data from one of the only comprehensive studies on the ability of organic agriculture to lower the global warming potential of grain production. Unfortunately, nothing this comprehensive is available for California.

Second, because the science is still developing, practical solutions for growers are elusive and certainly not institutionalized or supported economically. Though the Summit featured some partnerships between researchers and farmers, there is relatively little participatory research taking place and not enough technical advice to producers to guide them on best practices.

Other topics in the wide-ranging program for the Summit included:

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  • The potential of various management practices on rangelands for sequestering carbon, and the multiple ecosystems services that rangelands provide;
  • The need for more powerful policy tools to protect farmland which benefit climate protection by limiting urban sprawl and maintaining open space with a lower carbon footprint;
  • The latest developments in on-farm renewable energy opportunities;
  • The complex and dynamic relationships in soil management that influence nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide fluxes; and
  • The potential for pasture-fed dairy operations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when compared to feedlot dairies.

In spite of the limitations and emerging nature of the field of agriculture and climate change, participants at the Summit were notably enthusiastic and engaged, eager to be part of the solution to climate change.

One of the current issues is a state bill sponsored by Senator Wolk—the Agriculture Climate Benefits Act (SB 237)—that would assure that future revenue generated by the state’s climate change law designated to agriculture will be spent on climate-friendly sustainable agriculture practices. SB 237 passed out of its first committee hearing on April 4 and will soon be considered by the full Senate.

To stay apprised of these issues, more information can be found at the CalCAN Web site.

Renata Brillinger is the Executive Director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network. She can be reached at

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Renata Brillinger is the Executive Director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network, a coalition of sustainable agriculture organizations focused on climate policy. CalCAN advocates for policies that provide resources for California farmers to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Read more >

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