green field and dry desert field
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Audrey Hill
Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Californians were invited to discuss the state’s climate-driven future in agriculture on March 30th with leading scientists, policymakers, and California producers. Historically, the West Coast has been far ahead of the curve in communicating the effects of climate change, but only recently has innovation and technology been available to start talking about the solutions. The Summit, a conference to do just that, was a day-long event, free to attend as a webinar and in-person at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union. Keynote speakers included the Secretary of the CDFA, Karen Ross, and the esteemed scientist for the US Department of Energy, Jennifer Pett-Ridge. The Summit also featured 18 other speakers, 6-panel sessions, and 15 different discussion topics centered around assessing approachable solutions and climate-friendly business practices for the agriculture industry, specifically in California. 

The company leading the event, Climate Now, started as a podcast in 2021 and has since expanded to create video content and now events such as this one. 

“Events are a key channel for us because the issues around our transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy and toward more climate-friendly practices are technological, but for them to be successful, they are going to require real engagement with real people in local settings,” says James Lawler, Climate Now’s CEO, and founder. He later expanded on this to say that events are a “natural extension of their mission” because local economies, climate, and possibilities will vary from region to region. Every region has its intricacies between each three. This is a fundamental concept to the mission of carbon output reduction as one solution in an area that could not be suitable for a neighboring region. 

Not only is California ahead of the game in climate research and communication, but this state has also created some of the most efficient agricultural practices in the world. It is no accident that the Central Valley produces 1/4 of the nation’s food on less than 1% of the nation’s farmland (About Central Valley, USGS) and 80% of the world’s almonds (2013 Fruit and Nut Statistics, CDFA)! Because producers in this state already practice some of the most efficient growing methods, it can be challenging to see how and why progress still needs to push on. However, the current situation with climate variability – which may have been partially responsible for the recent nine or more atmospheric rivers – will push farmers to their limits and could weaken yields as extreme conditions become more common. For the nation’s food security and the world, California must do everything it can to protect its fertile landscape. 

Attendees for the event were mainly California producers. However, almost everyone had the same goal: to modify today’s practices to fit the environment better and take advantage of an opening economy centered around carbon sequestration. Academic panelists included CSU Bakersfield, Fresno, Stanislaus, and UC Merced. Topics for discussion mixed the ways producers, scientists, and policymakers can contribute to this goal. All panel discussions included:

• What does California policy provide for farmers, producers, and ranchers in response to climate change? What opportunities exist to support farmers to transition to more carbon-friendly practices, and increase profits? 

• What techniques and technologies can be used to reduce water use in agriculture? What are the challenges to adopting new techniques, and what policies can support farmers in this adoption?

• What are farmers and producers already doing to support greater yield and climate-smart practices? What challenges are they facing? What support do they need from scientists, academia, and policymakers?

• With drought conditions and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, some former agricultural lands are proving difficult to sustain. What lands should be repurposed and what economic opportunities exist for landowners willing and able to repurpose their land?

• The war in Ukraine caused fertilizer costs to spike. How might climate change impact how and what Central Valley farmers are able to export (and import from) overseas? What funding is provided by the state and federal government to support farmers to adjust their operations?

Other topics included the “Smart Farm.” The Smart Farm, presented by UC Merced, resembles the Smart City and focuses on the electrification of agriculture for careful and detailed oversight. In addition, many government programs such as the Healthy Soils Program and SWEEP, or State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, are becoming available to help fund the increase in technology and movement towards more smart farming. Many of these programs exist, and producers are encouraged to reach out to a local UC Cooperative Extension office for information on how to get ahold of these funds. 

Reducing and removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere enough to produce noticeable effects is a massive task. Still, if there has ever been a time in human history when it would be possible, it is now. It will take real passion-derived effort and, perhaps, a second Green Revolution to feed the world under these conditions. Fortunately, passionate and innovative producers are a namesake for California agriculture, and putting all heads together in an honest attempt is the first step. 

Recorded webinar is here on Climate Now’s YouTube channel.

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