OPINION: Climate-smart agriculture

Climate-smart ag practices make economic and environmental sense

The following commentary was submitted by Greg Rawlings, Organic Grower, Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo Inc. and Sherwood Darington, Managing Director, Ag Land Trust in Monterey County

In early April, Governor Jerry Brown officially declared that California’s record-setting drought is over. However, farmers across the state won’t soon forget the challenges it brought, and they know there are ongoing climate challenges to face such as weather extremes, reduced chill hours and increasingly intense drought-flood cycles. Many are ready and willing to do what they can to provide climate solutions on farms and ranches.

California is demonstrating international leadership on climate change. The state has created jobs and balanced the budget while staying on track to meet the ambitious 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets established under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

One area of California’s emerging leadership on climate change is the role our farms and ranches play in addressing climate change. There are unique and powerful contributions to be made by protecting farmland and by accelerating practices that improve water use efficiency, enhance soil health and increase biodiversity. California farms not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they can actually draw down atmospheric carbon into soil and woody plants.

New state climate change programs have started up to invest in community projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improved public transit, renewable energy production, water and energy efficiency, natural and working lands conservation, and much more. Governor Brown’s draft budget for fiscal year 2017-18 sets aside more than $2 billion for such investments. By the end of June, state legislators will weigh in with their budget priorities.

In recognition of the potential for agriculture to provide climate solutions, the state has launched several grants programs for “climate smart” farming practices. For example, in Monterey County alone, farmers have received almost $4.8 million to fund water conservation that both save water and reduce the energy needed to pump it. Investments like these are essential not only for encouraging climate solutions but also to buffer farms against water scarcity.

Another program has provided grants that permanently protect more than 33,000 acres of agricultural land at risk of development in 17 California counties, avoiding increases in greenhouse gas emissions associated with urban sprawl. This includes almost 1,500 acres of farmland in Monterey County.

In the summer of 2017, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will roll out the Healthy Soils Program. It will offer financial assistance to growers to implement new soil building management techniques that store carbon. No other state in the country supports farmers with incentives for this purpose.

Interest in these programs among growers has been high, likely because these climate-smart practices not only provide constructive responses to climate change but because they make economic and practical sense. Reducing water use saves money; improving soil health can increase fertility and crop yields; planting hedgerows not only increases carbon stocks but creates pollinator and wildlife habitat for pest control.

There is every reason to believe that Central Coast farmers and ranchers will continue to benefit from these grant programs as long as the governor and legislators—including Assemblymember Anna Caballero and Senator Anthony Cannella, who represent the Hollister and Salinas region—agree to make the funding available.

As California acts as a global beacon on climate change, it is critical to support farmers and ranchers in making their unique contributions for the benefit of rural and urban Californians, the environment, and the economy.


— Greg Rawlings, Organic Grower, Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo Inc.

     Sherwood Darington, Managing Director, Ag Land Trust

Renata Brillinger

Renata Brillinger is the Executive Director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), a statewide coalition that serves as the voice of organic and sustainable agriculture on climate policy issues.