California Demonstrates Growing Embrace of Climate Smart Agriculture

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) advocates have worked diligently to expand the worldwide application of good climate science to agricultural production and ecosystem support practices. So, here in the United States, it is exceptionally gratifying to see California take a leading role in the CSA movement, as evidenced by recent initiatives laid out by the head of the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

Secretary Karen Ross’ CSA activism is especially significant, given that California’s GDP alone has consistently ranked among the 10 biggest in the world ‑ driven in large part by the nation’s biggest agriculture sector with 76,400 farms, producing more than 400 commodities generating a farm-gate value of $54 billion.

California is among a number of states where CSA initiatives are taking hold because, as Ross put it in a recent editorial posted on the CDFA’s website, promoting and protecting agriculture is “a complex job – and one that is getting more complex as the climate changes.”

Ross and others in the U.S. agriculture community understand that erratic weather and changing climatic conditions are threat multipliers for producers. They also know that farmers, ranchers and foresters can take steps to adapt to these conditions, improve resiliency and simultaneously reduce or sequester greenhouse gas emissions.

With California now in its fourth year of drought, the state is experiencing some of the anticipated impacts of climate change, including job losses, fallowed land and greater demand for a limited amount of water. Ross says a concerted approach is urgently needed to prepare California agriculture for future climate-driven impacts, and one essential approach is embracing and implementing the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture. That includes following the three CSA principles: sustainably intensifying production to meet the needs of a growing global population; developing agricultural systems that are resilient to climate change; and reducing or sequestering greenhouse gas emissions.

California is preparing for higher global temperatures—inducing droughts, excessive precipitation and other multi-faceted impacts through its own climate smart agriculture initiatives, including a variety of CDFA programs and efforts underway intended to support agricultural sustainability, build resilience to climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Among these programs are a State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program(SWEEP), an emergency drought program to assist farmers in moving to efficient water irrigation systems that save water, conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is also a Dairy Digester Research and Development Program that provides incentives for dairy operations to install manure digesters that can capture methane from dairy lagoons and convert it to electricity. The state also runs a Fertilizer Research and Education Program that provides growers with cost-effective practices to improve the efficient use of fertilizer and minimize environmental impacts. Additionally, the Healthy Soils Initiative is an interagency collaboration intended to promote the development of healthy soils that sequester carbon on working lands.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, state agriculture and forestry leaders have formed an adaptation work group (NC ADAPT) that, under the auspices of Solutions from the Land (25x’25’s parent organization), has been exploring the impacts of increasingly extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions. The work group is obtaining feedback from producers and landowners, and is constructing an adaptive management strategy to improve resilience and further enhance the economic viability of the ag and forestry sectors in North Carolina for decades to come.

On a national scale, Solutions from the Land also has been supporting the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) in its mission to serve as a platform for member conversations, knowledge sharing, and collaboration on resilient and climate smart agriculture systems and practices. The platform offers agriculture, forestry, business and conservation leaders a structure by which they can gather to engage in systems thinking and landscape scale planning in support of resilient agriculture.

All stakeholder groups and interests are encouraged to join in these continuing explorations of not only how agriculture and forestry can survive the reality of changing climate conditions, but how they can thrive and adapt to them in a way that keeps farms, ranches and forestlands viable in producing food, feed and fiber, and capable of meeting the demands that will be imposed by a burgeoning global population.

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