Agricultural Climate Leaders Recognized at the CalCAN Summit

Posted on Monday, March 11th, 2019 by Renata Brillinger
CalCAN 2019 Climate and Agriculture Summit - Farm and Ranch UC Davis

CalCAN held its sixth California Climate and Agriculture Summit in Davis on March 4 & 5, with over 400 participants who actively engaged in dialogue, attended workshops, viewed poster presentations and celebrated CalCAN’s 10 years of work on climate and agriculture policy (more details to follow in a subsequent blog). During the plenary session, CalCAN was honored to recognize five California leaders for their contributions to the field of agriculture and climate change. Below is a short summary of the contributions each of the winners have made to the field of California agriculture at the nexus of climate change, as well as a quote from a panel discussion of the awardees.

Policymaker: Ken Alex, former Director of Governor Brown’s Office of Planning & Research — During his eight-year tenure in the Governor’s office, Ken was tapped to be the director of the Strategic Growth Council, a cabinet level agency that coordinates across departments on issues of climate change, public health and equity, transportation, and more. Under Ken’s leadership, the SGC embraced an in-fill development strategy to address the state’s housing and climate crisis. Ken’s approach to this work included recognition that protecting farmland at risk of sprawl was critical. This led to the creation of the Sustainable Ag Lands Conservation Program. Importantly, Ken also embraced what farmers could do to turn their farms into carbon sinks and reduce potent emissions.

“If we get the incentives right on climate farming, farmers and ranchers will be a huge part of the solution, sequestering huge amounts of carbon! We need to get greater and more serious incentives to make carbon sequestration part of what they’re doing for stewardship of the land.”

Farmer/Rancher: Ward and Rosie Burroughs, Burroughs Family Farm (Denair, CA) — Ward and Rosie farm near Denair where they produce organic almonds, olive oil, milk, cheese, and grass-based eggs and meats. Over the past 20 years or so, their farm has undergone a transformation from what was a conventional dairy. They have transitioned to an organic grassfed dairy, diversified their products, expanded their acreage, installed solar arrays, water monitoring systems and catchment ponds, added miles of hedgerows and started producing their own compost.

“As a farmer and a rancher who transitioned to organic, my advice to producers is to make yourself a regenerative farmer and manage your soil. If you don’t, your farms won’t be resilient, you won’t be able to recover after floods, etc. Use minimum till, compost or manures, plant as many cover crops as you can, manage livestock grazing where you can, and diversify your operations as much as you can.”

Agricultural Professional: Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension, Fresno — Ruth helps keep small-scale, diversi­fied farmers in business by providing support with marketing, regulatory compliance, processing of value-added products, wa­ter and energy efficient, and integrated pest management. She has been a driving force behind increasing access by Hmong farmers in the Fresno area to California’s State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP). She has promoted the program, provided thousands of hours of one-to-one, culturally-relevant support to farmers on grant applications, and assisted with project design and installation. The farmers they supported are now benefitting from water, energy and financial savings.

“There are large environmental problems to solve in the Central Valley, and it’s time for a different conversation around farming there. I feel that there need to be a conversation in the middle to solve problems rather than a conflict-based approach.”

Legislative Staff: Brett Williams, Office of Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin — Brett has served as the Legislative Director for Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin since she was elected in 2014 to represent District 44 in the Ventura area. Brett worked in four other state legislative offices and in local government, including in Yolo County where he worked with growers, landowners, and local organizations. In 2018, CalCAN worked with Brett on Assembly Bill 2377 which created the state’s first ongoing funding source for technical assistance for farmers applying to three of the state’s climate smart agriculture programs.

“In terms of the understanding and awareness of state legislators about agriculture’s climate solutions, there has been a of change and progress in the last five years. The SWEEP and Healthy Soils programs exist in large part through CalCAN’s excellent work and relationship building. My advice is to find a way to stand with conventional agriculture friends, making your position more powerful going forward.”

Researcher: Tapan Pathak, UC Cooperative Extension, Merced — Tapan is the chair of the Cooperative Extension Climate Change Adaptation Work­group that brings together scientists across the UC system to collaborate on research and extension projects related to climate change adaptation in California agriculture. Tapan is the lead author on an important and timely paper that was published in 20198 in the journal Agronomy. It synthesizes the impacts of climate change on California agriculture and offers directions for future research and implementation.

“We need more facilitated dialogue with policy researchers and scientists on the science of climate change, and the implications of not taking action. Given the scale of California agriculture and the pressure of climate change impacts, we need even more substantial funding for incentives for farmers and for research and tools, and we must integrate growers from the beginning of the process.”

Top Photo Credit: Saxon Holt

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