CalCAN Advisors Land Federal Grants to Advance Climate & Agriculture Initiatives in the San Joaquin Valley

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2022 by Renata Brillinger
technical assistance program Michael Yang, Small Farms and Specialty Crops Hmong Agricultural Assistant (left) and Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, PhD, Small Farms Advisor in Fresno and Tulare Counties (right), are some of the 33 technical assistance providers who will receive funding to assist farmers and ranchers in the upcoming rounds of the Climate Smart Agriculture Programs. Here, Michael is explaining the benefits of bitter melon on a recent tour of a small-scale, diversified vegetable farm in Fresno County.

Two of CalCAN’s science advisors recently won large federal grants to advance their important work supporting California’s farmers and ranchers in adapting to climate impacts and lowering agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. We are grateful for their work and for our partnership with them, and look forward to supporting these projects.

Expanding Climate Smart Agriculture Practices

Tapan Pathak, UC Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Merced
$1.5 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture

agriculture initiatives
Dr. Tapan Pathak describes the need to translate ag adaptation research into practical tools for farmers and ranchers at a hearing in 2019.

Along with a team at UC Cooperative Extension and USDA’s California Climate Hub, Dr. Tapan Pathak will lead a project to help California farmers and ranchers adjust to unpredictable weather events and other climate change impacts, as well as to support the adoption of climate smart practices. This project will be guided by input from a stakeholder needs assessments and advice from producers and other agriculture professionals. It will include many facets such as climate-smart agriculture trainings for technical service providers, regional workshops for farmers and ranchers, and student education with Extension service-learning opportunities.

“California farmers and ranchers need locally relevant climate information and adaptation resources,” said Tapan in a UC ANR press release about the project. “Similarly, technical service providers are often ill-equipped to assist farmers and ranchers when asked questions about climate change, weather variability and local implications to implement those decisions.”

An important aspect of the project is its focus on reaching and serving socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and those with limited English. These groups often lack resources and capacity to make their production more resilient to climate risks. The project team is taking care to explicitly identify and address typical barriers, such as language or cultural barriers, technology constraints, and insufficient outreach and technical assistance efforts. With the help of community partners including the Community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF) and the California Association of Resource Conservation District, the team will reach out to include socially disadvantaged and limited-resource producers, including beginning and first-generation farmers and ranchers, in regional workshops led by instructors who are fluent in Spanish and Hmong.

tapan at winery
Dr. Tapan Pathak presenting at a California winery

Another feature of the project is the way it will target outreach and education to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers through regional climate-smart workshops. California has so much diversity in terms of scale, crops, geography, micro-climates, market conditions and natural resource considerations, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

This project has significant potential to promote climate-smart agriculture practices and programs with a range of expertise and a trusted network of strong collaborators. As we see climate change-related impacts such as water scarcity, extreme heat, wildfires, shifting pest and disease patterns, and extreme weather threatening the viability of food production and the nation’s food security, it is clear that this effort is more critical than ever.

Addressing Barriers to Building Soil Health

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Small Farms Program, Fresno
$753,407 for a grant from USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard is the Small Farms and Specialty Crops Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno and Tulare Counties. She heads up a team of technical assistance providers and researchers focused on providing a wide array of services to the region’s Southeast Asian, Black and Latino growers, including support for their adoption of soil health and water conserving practices and systems.

in the field fresno
In the field with UCCE Small Farm Advisors, Michael and Ruth.

The CIG grant is titled “Addressing Barriers for Historically Underserved Producers in California’s San Joaquin Valley to Implement Combined Soil Health Practices through Participatory Planning and Evaluation on Diversified Farms.” It will address barriers faced by small-scale historically underserved producers to adopt soil health practices and systems. The team will distribute resources and payments to 10 participating farmers cultivating vegetables, herbs, and subtropical or small-acreage tree crops in Fresno and Tulare Counties. The grant allows the team to provide resources directly without the burden of grant applications, tailored to the needs of the growers as they emerge. The team expects to learn much about the barriers for small, diversified, historically underserved farmers in the adoption of healthy soils practices and what is needed to scale them up across the San Joaquin Valley.

The project objectives are to:

1) conduct a participatory process of planning implementation of on-farm practices;

2) implement soil health practices on farms as determined by producers;

3) collect data to evaluate soil health metrics on farms;

4) collect data on management practices, costs, and returns; and

5) conduct outreach to extend recommendations.

Conservation practices supported by the project will include winter cover crops, compost application, planting of windbreaks and/or hedgerows, and mulch. Materials and equipment will be provided directly to producers through the project. Funds will be used for a range of services such as individual technical assistance; translation into Spanish and Hmong; provision of equipment; support relationship building between farmers and suppliers of materials such as compost; evaluation of the performance of cover crop species under conditions of limited rainfall.

The team will produce educational materials including multilingual fact sheets and peer-to-peer videos featuring participating producers’ recommendations on implementing soil health practices based on their own experience and in their own languages (English, Spanish, and Hmong). Data collected to assess changes in soil health during implementation of combined practices will be used to generate recommendations specific to small-scale, diversified farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Results will be shared with a wider audience of small-scale farmers in California to support adoption of soil health practices and provide research-based information on adaptation of combined practices to address financial, resource, and environmental challenges.

At CalCAN, we are excited to collaborate on both of these projects, and will track their progress and share developments as they happen

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