CalCAN Summit Recap: Solutions, Challenges, Innovation

 

In early March, over 400 of California’s foremost experts on climate and agriculture gathered at the 6th California Climate and Agriculture Summit to share insights, experiences and questions about the challenges facing California agriculture in the face of climate change and the tools and resources needed to mitigate and adapt to it.

What makes this biennial gathering unique is the multidisciplinary approach to the topic. It offered three tracks (policy, practice and science) and attracts farmers and ranchers, scientists, government agencies and policymakers, educators, and advocates for agriculture, conservation and the environment. As Cristina Lazcano, Assistant Professor in Soil Ecology from California Polytechnic State University, said, “It was really inspiring to see so many people with different expertise but the same purpose.”

Farm and Ranch Tours

On the first day of the Summit, about 100 people toured three very diverse farming operations in the Yolo/Solano County region to learn about agricultural climate solutions offered by each. The innovative farms included a five-acre diverse organic operation, a 6,800-acre ranching and conservation project and a 15,000-acre conventional farm growing rice and several other crops. Key themes of the day highlighted the importance of partnerships in achieving climate benefits on farms and ranches, and the critical role that farms of all types and sizes can play in achieving the state’s climate goals.

Bobcat Ranch tour

At Bobcat Ranch, a stunningly beautiful 6,800-acre oak woodland and grassland property owned and managed by Audubon Society, the focus is on conservation and rangeland management for habitat protection and carbon sequestration. Cattle are used as a management strategy to improve soil, provide fire abatement and manage invasive species. Leasee Scott Stone from Yolo Land & Cattle Co., Dash Weidhofer from Audubon Society and Corey Shake from Point Blue Conservation Science talked about the power of agriculture for providing a host of environmental benefits.

Bell bean cover crop at River Garden Farms tour

We also visited Cloverleaf Farm, a five-acre woman-owned diversified organic fruit and vegetable operation near Dixon where we learned about their water conservation project funded by the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP). In addition to converting a water pump from diesel to solar power, they also use efficient irrigation technology and monitoring systems to simultaneously save water and optimize fruit flavor.

Our last stop was at River Garden Farms, a 15,000-acre conventional rice, grain and walnut farm near Knight’s Landing where we learned about a Healthy Soils grant they received last year. They are working with Audubon Society, the Yolo County Resource Conservation District and the National Center for Appropriate Technology to install a large hedgerow along two miles of rice fields to sequester carbon and provide pollinator and wildlife habitat. Additionally, the farmers are experimenting with cover crops on rice fields over winter.

Conference

More than sixty speakers made presentations on climate and agriculture topics and an additional 12 presenters offered poster sessions to augment participants’ exposure to current research. Topics ranged widely, including the following examples (full program and powerpoint presentations available here):

  • Protecting Ag Land, Protecting the Climate
  • Rethinking the Nutrient Management Paradigm for Soil Health
  • Connecting California’s Climate & Agriculture Policies to Equity
  • Triple Win: Manure Management Strategies on California Dairies
  • Managing Agroecosystems for Climate Resilience
  • Groundwater Management Implications for Agriculture
  • What It Takes On the Ground to Get Carbon Into the Ground
CalCAN’s Policy Director Jeanne Merrill recaps the past 10 years of effort on climate and agriculture policy

In addition, the plenary session reviewed the last decade of progress the CalCAN coalition and partners have achieved, including:

  • Passage of a bill to make it easier and cheaper for growers to produce renewable energy and connect to the grid
  • Passage of bill language establishing the Healthy Soils Program in statute
  • Passage of bill language that laid the groundwork for the launch of the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP)
  • Influencing the design and implementation of four cap-and-trade funded “climate smart agriculture” programs that incentivize farmland conservation, improving soil health and carbon sequestration, on-farm water conservation, and methane emissions reductions on dairies.

CalCAN recognized five agricultural climate leaders, including farmers/ranchers, an agricultural professional, a policymaker, a legislative staff member, and researcher, who exemplify the unique roles and initiative that is critical to the collaborative progress that CalCAN seeks in the policy, science, and practice of climate-friendly agriculture in California.

Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm

During opening remarks to the conference, Judith Redmond, co-owner of Full Belly Farm and CalCAN farmer advisor, reflected on the progress made and the challenge ahead by offering this:

“Those of us in California are leading the way in agricultural climate innovation and will continue to lead the way. We need to continue to build tools that bury carbon in soil, work first with communities that are hit first by climate impacts, and work together in a global culture of hope and inspiration. It will require a marriage of research, practice and policy, a union that points the way forward. It is that interplay that can be a struggle but also pushes towards revelation.”

We look forward to our continued engagement with you—members of our statewide network of growers, advocates, researchers and agriculture experts—as we enter our second decade of work to realize our vision for California agriculture: To achieve a widespread transition to sustainable and organic agricultural systems that are increasingly resilient, environmentally sound and healthy, and that provide climate benefits, protect our natural resources, sustain our food security, provide for economically vibrant agricultural communities, and maintain our finite agricultural lands.

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