Recommendations for Agricultural Climate Targets in AB 1757

Posted on Friday, September 29th, 2023 by Brian Shobe
Picture from Potrero Nuevo Farm, USDA NRCS

A group of agricultural, climate, and conservation organizations – including CalCAN – recently submitted two letters containing recommendations for agricultural climate targets and pathways to the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA). The letters include recommendations for 2030, 2038, and 2045 targets for 17 agricultural climate solutions such as cover cropping, hedgerows, transition to organic farming, and avoided conversion of agricultural lands. The letters also include relevant scientific literature documenting the climate benefits of each solution, their co-benefits and synergies with other state priorities, and strategies to achieve the recommended targets. 

The recommendations were developed in response to a request for public input from CNRA. Assembly Bill 1757 (C.Garcia, 2022), which CalCAN supported, requires CNRA to determine an ambitious range of targets for nature-based climate solutions by January 1, 2024. CNRA is also currently gathering input from a natural and working lands expert advisory committee and relevant state agencies like the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).This effort builds on the state’s existing climate plans and strategy documents, including the Scoping Plan for Achieving Carbon Neutrality, the Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy, and the California Climate Adaptation Strategy.

The development and submission of the recommendations was a collaborative effort that included staff from eight organizations: American Farmland Trust, California Certified Organic Farmers, CalCAN, Carbon Cycle Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pesticide Action Network, The Climate Center, and Wild Farm Alliance.

A few themes cut across all the recommendations:

Prioritize the stacking of multiple climate-resilient practices:

The scientific literature makes it clear that stacking multiple practices results in synergistic climate, agronomic, biodiversity, and health benefits. As such, we strongly recommend that programs and regulatory frameworks incentivize the stacking of climate-resilient practices wherever possible.

Recognize co-benefits are key to scaling up adoption and support:

The climate benefits of these practices, while significant, are often less salient to farmers than the agronomic benefits (e.g., soil health, crop yield) and less salient to communities than the public health benefits. Highlighting and quantifying, when possible, these “co-benefits” will be critical to scaling up adoption and support, as will research efforts that use participatory methods to address key farmer questions.

Build on existing tools and frameworks:

We are not starting from scratch. Federal, state, and local governments have many existing tools and frameworks in place to advance and measure progress on the practices described below, including incentive programs, research and education initiatives, procurement policies, recurring agricultural surveys and reports, and regulatory frameworks. While new policies and programs may be needed, the main task ahead will be continuously improving, scaling, coordinating, and leveraging these existing tools and frameworks.

Invest in farmers by supporting secure land tenure, farm viability, and technical assistance:

Many of the solutions included in the recommendations have multiple long-term benefits. However, the long-term nature of those benefits combined with significant upfront costs of adopting those practices (i.e., equipment, materials, labor) make it challenging for farmers with insecure land tenure to justify adopting many climate-beneficial practices. Additionally, farmers need to have viable business operations and access to trained technical assistance providers who can support with planning, implementing and monitoring the transition to climate resilient farming. Solving this challenge will not be easy, but the state can learn from the recently appointed California Agricultural Land Equity Task Force at the Strategic Growth Council, the emerging Regional Carbon Farming Hubs, and organizations supporting beginning and historically underserved farmers in accessing secure land tenure (e.g. California FarmLink, Kitchen Table Advisors, etc.).

Next Steps

The natural and working lands expert advisory committee will discuss its draft recommendations in a public meeting on October 12. After the committee finalizes its recommendations, CNRA will consider all of the input gathered from the public, the expert advisory committee, and relevant state agencies, and then issue its determined targets by January 1, 2024.

CNRA and the expert advisory committee will then move on to fulfilling the other requirements outlined by Assembly Bill 1757, including reviewing and updating the Natural and Working Lands Climate Strategy and developing standard methods for agencies to consistently track greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, and additional benefits where feasible by 2025

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