New Climate Change Plan Looks to Farmers, Ranchers for Solutions

Posted on Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 by Jeanne Merrill
CA NRCS - Buffer strip in Sonoma County
Photo credit: USDA NRCS – Buffer strip in Sonoma County

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently released a new Scoping Plan, which lays out measures the state is pursuing to achieve AB 32’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This update to the original Scoping Plan of 2008 goes a lot further than the original in laying out strategies that reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while also achieving economic and environmental co-benefits.

CalCAN has long advocated for increased investments in agricultural research and grower technical and financial assistance to support agricultural systems that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have made the case for investing in agricultural systems that have multiple ‘wins’, like increased energy efficiency, improved air and water quality, and input savings.

We were pleased to see that CARB’s new plan calls for research, technical assistance and financial incentives that provide resources for farmers and ranchers to implement reduction strategies. What’s not clear in the plan is how we’re going to get there.

CARB calls on California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to strengthen technical assistance and financial incentives to help farmers develop carbon plans and reduce emissions. While CDFA can play an important coordinating role, the network of technical service providers lies elsewhere with UC Cooperative Extension, Resource Conservation Districts (RCD) and nonprofit and private consultants. Rather than create something new, we need to strategically invest limited funding—and that means putting public dollars into existing public resources like Cooperative Extension and the RCDs.

The plan also calls out specific strategies to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Among them is a new focus on working lands conservation, which we were pleased to see in both the Agriculture and Natural and Working Lands sections of the plan.

CARB calls for convening an interagency workgroup in 2015 to establish a coordinated land use program with local agencies “to develop recommendations and targets for incorporating farmland conservation in local and regional land use planning.”  We support this effort, but ask – why wait? Let’s start now while the economy picks up steam, as large new infrastructure proposals and local development projects with significant implications for farmland conservation get underway.

Along with farmland conservation, the plan recognizes that farm management activities can reduce potent greenhouse gases, like methane and nitrous oxide, and increase carbon sequestration. We were pleased to see the mention of organic farming systems as one area of focus, but left baffled by the characterization of supporting “highly efficient management (precision agriculture) for both conventional and organic farming.”  What is “highly efficient management” in agriculture? It suggests an emphasis on technology-driven applications of fertilizers and other inputs over biological management practices.

It would be a mistake for CARB to ignore low-input, biologically-based farming systems, which studies find can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil carbon stores while providing multiple health and environmental benefits. More, not less must be done to support moves towards biological farming systems.

Importantly, for the first time, CARB proposes setting greenhouse gas emission reductions targets in the agriculture sector for interim date of 2030 to help meet the state’s target of 80 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2050. An interagency group is proposed to begin discussions this year on setting the agriculture targets. CalCAN strongly supports using research, technical assistance, and financial incentives that enable a sustainable, thriving California agricultural economy that can offer important climate solutions.

So what’s next? The legislature is now taking up the Governor’s proposed FY 2014-15 budget.  Among the proposals is an investment of $850 million of cap-and-trade revenues in greenhouse gas emissions reduction activities, including farmland conservation and agriculture management strategies.  CalCAN and our allies will be engaging in the budget discussions, supporting direct investments for sustainable agricultural solutions to a changing climate.

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