News from the Farm | May 26, 2014

Farmers all over California are weighing their summer water options.  Some, for example, on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, will fallow all of their land for lack of water.  Others (like Full Belly) have access to groundwater, and will irrigate only higher value crops, and choose to grow less in certain fields or reduce water use later in the season.   

In declaring a drought emergency, Governor Brown called out the likely connection between the drought and climate change.  I recently asked a friend if the farmers in his neighborhood talked about the drought in those terms and he replied that while they may or may not think about the impact of climate change, what they worry about more is the impact of regulations that will be imposed on agriculture in the name of addressing climate change!

This is a sorry state of affairs. Farmers probably think a lot more about the weather than most people.  We are especially vulnerable to changes in weather patterns and regularly see how effective the weather can be at wrecking even the most carefully made plans. On the other hand, we also have a lot of experience working with the elements and figuring out solutions. 

With all of this in mind, a group of us has been proposing for years that climate change policymakers should take note of the potential of agriculture to be a big part of the solution.  It hasn’t been easy, but now there is a possibility that we may secure a small portion of cap-and-trade funds for agriculture, hopefully in a way that will set those fears about the regulatory world at rest (albeit temporarily!),

Governor Brown and the state legislature are currently deciding the future of investments to address climate change and avoid its worst impacts. The Governor’s budget proposal for 2014-15 includes funding for sustainable agriculture and farmland conservation. While the bulk of the allocations in the proposal are for high-speed rail, clean transportation and energy efficiency, some funds will also go towards farmland preservation and agricultural management strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy and water use and produce on-farm renewable energy.

Next, the legislature weighs in. They must pass a budget by mid-June, and of course there are competing ideas about how to spend cap-and-trade proceeds, proposals that change daily and some of which don’t include investments in agriculture. 

Although public awareness of food and farming issues is at an all-time high, public investment into agricultural research, technical assistance and education is at an all-time low.  If our proposals to invest in climate-friendly agriculture fly, it will be a modest first step towards reinvesting in California’s 25 million acres of land devoted to farming and ranching. 

The coalition of groups working on these proposals is California Agriculture Climate Action Network (CalCAN).  We are asking friends of sustainable agriculture to show support for climate-friendly farming by calling their California Senators and Assembly-members, urging them to include cap-and-trade investments into sustainable agriculture in the state budget. It only takes a few minutes. You can find your representative’s phone number here: You can find talking points here:

With luck and a little help from our friends, we could see some programs come out of this that will increase farm productivity and income, make agriculture more resilient to variations in climate, and help farmers become a big part of the solution to the climate change challenge!

— Judith Redmond

Cache Creek – usually waist deep this time of year – is shallow and clear.

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