CalCAN Summit Recap

Posted on Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 by

It’s been an exciting week of learning and collaboration for those of us at CalCAN. This week was the 5th California Climate and Agriculture Summit, a two-day event that began with a day of keynote speeches, workshops, and poster presentations at the UC Davis Conference Center, and finished with a day of farm tours in the Capay Valley in Yolo County. We were so grateful for the incredible presenters and panelists, and for all those that attended and lent their experience, intelligence and enthusiasm to the event.

The Summit began with an opening Plenary session (audio file available here). CalCAN Executive Director Renata Brillinger welcomed attendees and opened the Summit by reminding us of the tangible impacts of climate change, noting that California is in the midst of its wettest winter on record, which has come at the heels of its deepest drought. She also remarked on the uncertain ecological, political and social times we are in, and noted the three areas CalCAN is watching in terms of action by the Trump administration: (1) Funding for climate research; (2) federal pre-emption of California’s climate, clean energy and immigration policies; and, (3) 2018 Farm Bill conservation funding.

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, was the first keynote speaker of the day. She delivered an inspiring speech about the potential for agriculture to be part of the solution to climate change, and commended CalCAN for its leadership in this area. Secretary Ross argued that there is a great need for increased funding for research on agriculture and climate change, which would help us examine the role of agriculture in reversing climate change and build strategies to allow the sector to adapt to a changing climate. Secretary Ross celebrated the recent creation of California’s Healthy Soils Initiative, which has received $7.5 million in funding, as an exciting example of the role of agriculture in mitigating climate change and building a more climate resilient food system. “I have never been more excited about the possibilities,” Secretary Ross said, referring to the Initiative and future of agriculture in the state.

Glenda Humiston, Vice President of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), gave the second keynote address of the day. Humiston emphasized the importance of working lands to California’s economy and shared her hope that the impact of UC ANR can be greatly expanded by developing expanded partnerships with other programs and agencies. She pushed for strategies that emphasize the “3 P’s” (People, Planet, and Prosperity), and pointed toward UC ANR’s recently released five-year plan as an example of such a strategy in action. Humiston also emphasized the importance of longitudinal studies in agriculture – pointing out that questions of climate change mitigation rely on long-term data sets for answers. Her rousing speech emphasized the potential of programs like UC ANR to build bridges and leverage partnerships in order to tackle issues surrounding climate change and agriculture.

These wonderful speakers were followed by a farmer panel titled “Biodiversity as a Climate Solution” featuring farmers Javier Zamora (Santa Cruz County), Scott Park (Sutter County), and Rosie Burroughs (Merced County), and moderated by Jo Ann Baumgartner of Wild Farm Alliance.

These panelists shared their philosophy on biodiversity and their perspectives on its connection with soil health and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Zamora, who grows organic strawberries and flowers on the central coast, spoke of the challenges that the extreme weather has caused for his farm, and explained that he has attempted to plant in the spaces between crops in order to prevent erosion and create an extra earning opportunity for his farm. Burroughs, who produces dairy, beef, almonds, and cheese as well as other products, spoke of the importance of biodiversity in building soil health. “Changing your own paradigm, and thinking outside the box is where to start…all life starts in the soil,” said Rosie, emphasizing the need for growers to be innovative as they consider the impacts of climate change on their operation and the potential for healthy soils to help build climate resilience. Park added that “farmers need tangible, hard facts that make it worth adopting healthy soil practices” and demonstrate not only the climate benefits, but also the resulting financial benefits of healthy soil associated with reducing variant costs.

Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN Policy Director, followed the panel and discussed CalCAN’s advocacy on policies that support climate smart agriculture. She noted that there has been a growing conversation in Sacramento about the critical connection between agriculture and climate change. She highlighted several initiatives that CalCAN has supported, including the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC), funding for non-digester alternative manure management practices in order to reduce methane emissions from the dairy sector, and the new Healthy Soils Initiative.

The morning concluded with announcements of the 2017 Climate and Agriculture Leadership Awards to three CalCAN partners. The recipients were CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm, and Dr. Kerri Steenwerth of USDA ARS. We were thrilled to recognize the leadership of these individuals and look forward to continued engagement as California continues to blaze the trail on climate and agriculture policy, science and practice.

Left to right: Renata Brillinger, CalCAN; Reggie Knox, FarmLink; Judith Redmond, award winner; Dave Runsten, CAFF; Karen Ross, award winner; Kelly Damewood, CCOF; Kerri Steenwerth, award winner; Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN

By all accounts, the Summit was a success, and highlighted the sophisticated, diverse and evolving understanding of climate and agriculture among the community of attendees. Here is a sample of some of the feedback from the event:

“I felt so energized and optimistic coming out of the Summit.” — Ali Robinson, FarmLink

“I appreciate your efforts to create and hold the space for connections, conversation, and community to happen.” — William Hart, Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

“The actions and efforts of CalCAN has forced me to examine how we approach research within the agricultural system. I value the CalCAN conference because of the broad range of organizations and practitioners that attend.” — Kerri Steenwerth, USDA Agricultural Research Service

“The Summit was really good. Solid information, informed, highly qualified presenters, comfortable programming flow, pleasing venue, outstanding food/snack offerings, and abundantly nourishing fellowship.” — Nancy Schaub, New Priorities Foundation

Audio files of the plenary session are now available here, along with the program and speaker bios. Powerpoint presentations from the breakout sessions to follow soon!


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