A Fitting Launch to An Important Year: Recapping the 4th CalCAN Summit

A sold-out crowd packed into the ballroom.
A sold-out crowd packed into the ballroom.

The 4th Climate & Agriculture Summit at UC Davis was, by all accounts, CalCAN’s most successful Summit yet.

The daylong gathering on March 25th brought together 320 participants, including 65 farmers and ranchers from across California. Our 60+ speakers, panelists, moderators and poster presenters were uniformly excellent, demonstrating the amazing diversity and expertise of CalCAN’s partners and friends.

Overall, the Summit was a testament to how far we have collectively come in our work to unleash agricultural solutions to climate change—and an important reminder of the opportunities that still lie ahead.

Honoring This Year’s Climate and Agriculture Leaders 

Leadership Winners
Leadership Award winners and presenters.

This year, CalCAN honored three leaders at the Summit whose outstanding efforts on climate and agriculture issues are an inspiration to us all.

Before receiving his leadership award, farmer Craig McNamara of Sierra Orchards (Winters) delivered a rousing keynote address (click for audio). Craig emphasized that farmers and the public must work together to face drought and climate change, declaring that “our water and our soils are our most precious resources, and we must work together to ensure a sustainable future for our planet.”

State Senator Lois Wolk (D – Yolo County) received an award for her legislative leadership on issues of farm-based renewable energy, farmland protection, and water management. Accepting the award on her behalf (click for audio), Will Arnold reiterated the Senator’s commitment to promoting agricultural climate solutions.

This year’s researcher leadership award went to Dr. Stephen Wheeler of UC Davis, whose work demonstrates the benefits of protecting farmland and influenced the creation of the state’s new farmland easement program set up to achieve GHG reductions. In order to tackle climate change, Dr. Wheeler said (click for audio), we must recognize that “agriculture, climate, and urbanization are all inter-related.”

A Turning Point for State Policy? 

Ken Alex, Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, launched us on our discussion of climate and agriculture policy in his morning address (click for audio).

Mr. Alex said the Governor sees the opportunities to address climate change emissions through our natural and working lands. He highlighted the cap-and-trade-funded Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program at the Department of Conservation, which he called “one of the only things I’ve worked on in government where everyone supports it,” and signaled that he expects the budget for the program will increase in 2015, something CalCAN advocates.

CalCAN’s Renata Brillinger (click for audio) and Full Belly Farm’s Judith Redmond (click for audio) summarized our recent policy work on climate and agriculture issues. They pointed to two recent reports: Growing Solutions: Recommendations to Governor Brown, which includes specific policy suggestions across many issue areas, and Blueprint for a California Program on Climate & Agriculture, which lays out a vision for how the state can promote broader adoption of climate-friendly agricultural practices.

The main event, however, was the announcement of the recently-introduced Senate Bill 367, the Agriculture Climate Benefits Act, which is authored by Senator Wolk and co-sponsored by CalCAN. This bill proposes the allocation of cap-and-trade funds to incentivize on-farm management practices and farmland conservation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon in soils and woody plants.

Bill support letters were circulated, and over one-third of the participants signed on. SB 367 has since received widespread support from farms and ranches, agriculture and environmental organizations, and recently passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee with a unanimous bipartisan vote.

Water Worries, Soil Solutions 

The farmer drought panel.
The farmer drought panel.

This year, the Summit’s traditional farmer panel focused on the drought. Kellyx Nelson of the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District moderated a lively discussion (click for audio) between Joe Morris (Morris Grassfed, San Benito County), Tom Willey (T&D Willey Farms, Madera County), and Jutta Thoerner (Manzanita Manor Organics, San Luis Obispo County).

The audience sat captivated throughout the fifty-minute conversation, as the beginning notes of desperation were balanced by the optimism and inspiration of these three innovative growers.

Tom Willey, who has eliminated a number of water-hungry crops from his operation in recent years, expressed dismay that neighboring growers have moved in the opposite direction, swapping wine grapes for nut trees.

Despite the drought’s “emotional roller coaster”, Joe Morris finds hope in the successes he and other ranchers have had building soil carbon as a way to store water underground. Intensive grazing on his ranch has led to a 7% increase in soil carbon in the top 10 cm and an 11% increase at the 10 to 25 cm depth – all accomplished during the last four years of drought.

Jutta Thoerner talked about her experiments and successes with dry-farming walnuts in her orchard, reminding us that a few decades ago all walnuts in California were grown with virtually no irrigation, and that we may have to regain the knowledge about how to do it. Asked about her biggest hopes for the future, she replied, “I hope it’s going to rain!”

Continuing the Conversation: Workshops

The drought remained a thread of discussion as the Summit shifted to workshop sessions in the late morning and afternoon. The following is a snapshot of a few of the sessions — the complete program is available on our website. (Click on a workshop name below to view the presenters’ slides.)

Some focused directly on policy (Water Policy & What It Means for California Growers) while others took a farm-level view (Practical Solutions to the Drought).

Ward Burroughs and his compost-making machinery.
Ward Burroughs and his compost-making machinery.

Healthy Soils were a big topic as well; researchers and growers shared insights from the philosophical to the nitty-gritty.

In the Strategies for Building Soil Carbon workshop, farmer Phil Foster showed how he’s significantly increased soil carbon over the years, while rancher Ward Burroughs previewed his process and equipment for creating his “black gold” compost.

In the session titled Compost Policies to Achieve Climate Benefits, Soil Building & Water Storage, three policy experts unveiled their ground-up vision for how to unleash the multiple co-benefits of soil management across California.

This year’s Summit also saw the debut of a new session format – the quick and snappy Lightning Talks (click for video and presentations) were a huge success and showcased just a small fraction of the myriad projects going on all around the state.

The fifteen diverse workshops were a lot to take in; the only major grievance was that it’s tough to be in more than one place at the same time.

(Slides from all of the workshop presentations, including some audio and video materials, are available here.)

Wrapping Up

CalCAN is grateful to everyone who came out for our 4th Climate and Agriculture Summit. This year promises to be a particularly important one for the issues we collectively work on, and to launch into it accompanied by such an impressive group of thinkers and practitioners was a true honor.

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