New Research to Inform California’s Climate Plan on Ag and Working Lands

A recently published review of 50 California-based studies on climate smart agriculture practices will inform the state’s Climate Change Scoping Plan on agriculture and working lands. The Scoping Plan provides a roadmap for how the state will meet its ambitious greenhouse gas emission reductions target (a reduction of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030) with strategies such as renewable energy development, energy efficiency measures, low carbon transportation, “climate smart agriculture,” forest restoration, and more.

We highly encourage those interested in climate-beneficial agriculture in California to read the entire review paper published by University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, available in the most recent issue of California Agriculture.

CalCAN relies on works like this scholarly review to advance policy initiatives and ensure that California’s climate plans be guided by rigorous, up-to-date scientific research. Over the years, we have relied on the research, expert advice and presentations of most of the paper’s 14 authors.

The review summarizes nuanced and complex findings about practices that can reduce emissions, sequester carbon and provide other co-benefits to producers and the environment across agriculture and rangeland systems.

According to the authors, farmland conversion and the dairy and intensive livestock sector are California agriculture’s largest contributors to greenhouse emissions and therefore offer the greatest opportunities for reducing or avoiding emissions altogether. The review also identifies a range of other opportunities to provide climate benefits including soil and nutrient management, integrated and diversified farming systems, rangeland management, and biomass-based energy generation.

The authors identify needs for additional research to strengthen the evidence base for California climate policy and provide several specifically policy-related recommendations, including a few below that we think are especially important:

  • Because of the great promise for the environmental, economic, health, and other co-benefits offered by integrated or diversified farming systems (defined as multi-purpose operations that may produce several commodities and use renewable resources), more types of these farming systems deserve study to best evaluate and determine metrics for their long-term contributions to climate and other goals.
  • A holistic consideration of greenhouse gas emissions is necessary, rather than too singularly focusing on one climate pollutant or metric, which can cause “leakage,” or the effect of strict climate policy in one region causing increases in another.
  • A diversity of incentivized practices is needed to reflect the variety of circumstances within which California’s agricultural operations function.
  • Incentive structures for soil carbon sequestration and storage should account for the need for consistent soil/nutrient management over time, as well as wide variability of California soils.
  • There is a need for longer-term studies (greater than 10 years) in a variety of different California rangelands regions to investigate and demonstrate sustained carbon sequestration on those working lands.
  • Farmer networks for demonstration and evaluation are critical for scaling up the adoption of practices with climate benefits.
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