By Jenifer VanAlstein, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

This month, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) held a series of “Farmer and Rancher-Led Climate Change Solutions Stakeholder Meetings.” I would venture to say these were not in fact farmer and rancher led, as these community stakeholder meetings were required under an Executive Order issued by Governor Newsom (Executive Order N-82-20). This Order, among other climate change initiatives, directed the California Natural Resources Agency to establish the California Biodiversity Collaborative and charged the collaborative with developing an action plan to preserve and enhance biodiversity protection, habitat restoration, wildfire-resiliency, sustainably managed landscapes, and other conservation outcomes. Most notably, the Governor’s goal in this Executive Order is to conserve at least 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030. The Executive Order came after a similar bill failed in the Legislature, the correct branch that policy such as this should have gone through.

Perhaps I am jaded and cynical, but these types of Executive Orders are eerily similar to what this Governor and past state leaders have done to other industries, most notably, oil and gas. While the goal of preserving our state’s natural resources and landscapes is no doubt a worthwhile goal, the devil is always in the details and, speaking from experience, in government implementation. For decades, California’s policies pushed further and further on stringent regulation of petroleum extraction, until finally, it was plainly stated that the goal of the state is to eliminate oil production. But for years, it was disguised as environmental regulation. I do not see much difference in the actions the state is currently taking in the agriculture industry.

As mentioned, the goal of conservation, preservation, and environmental quality are not bad goals. I do not believe there is anyone in the state, regardless of political affiliation, that would say we should not be good stewards of the land. As Californians, we are incredibly blessed with beautiful landscapes and rich soil. This allows for our state to have an extremely diverse economy, something any other state would love to have at their discretion. But the issue is always how to balance economy and conservation. And the goal is constantly moving.

During these discussions led by the CDFA, background presentations were provided on existing programs also aimed at climate change solutions. This is an important aspect that is too often overlooked by lawmakers. Let’s take a second to recognize the hard work and high cost that farmers and ranchers have already invested into making notable changes in business operations. The groups that continue to push for “real climate solutions” have not INVESTED anything into the actual solutions. The private sector has been doing the heavy lifting. The companies that have literally invested millions into new irrigation systems, new tractors, new processing facilities, etc. are the ones who are truly combating climate change. Loud voices in the halls of the Legislature do not clean the air.

The CDFA did recognize that the state conducted a similar outreach effort in 2012 where they reached out to the agriculture community on efforts to adapt to climate change. From those efforts, the state has implemented programs such as the Healthy Soils Initiative. The current Climate Change Scoping Plan is a statewide plan to reach the 2030 climate target (established by the Executive Branch). This will impact the State Adaptation Strategy (formerly known as the Safeguarding California Plan) which explains how industries plan to respond to meet the 2030 goals. In years past, this is what produced things like widely used drip irrigation, etc. Then, the state will work with researchers on the Climate Change Research Plan which will seek to identify what information is needed and what technology exists to reach the goals. Again, not to sound cynical, but a word of caution on the technology assessment and actionable science research.

During the February 8th “listening session” the example was brought up about the success of dairy digesters used to reduce methane. They touted how the state issued almost $200 million in grant funding. That’s great… but what they failed to mention was that over 1,000 dairy companies have left the state since 2001. So, one could argue that the movement of cows has also significantly contributed to the methane reduction. They also failed to mention that these businesses must come up with matching funds in order to obtain the state’s grants. And where does that grant money come from? Other industries who are under climate change programs (i.e. all other agriculture industries, the petroleum industry, food processors, etc.). Even the information presented by the state shows that 8% of the total green house gas emissions are attributed to agriculture—4% from animal ag, 4% crops. Considering the overwhelming economic benefits agriculture contributes to the state, I think that number is incredibly low and should be considered a huge success in itself.

One metaphor that I thought would be a good example to explain this mindset is the reduction of drunk driving accidents. One side would argue that banning drinking and driving will solve the horrible problem in our society of drunk driving accidents. But clearly, that has not worked. Yet, in recent years, there has been a huge reduction of drunk driving accidents. So—how did we reach a solution? One word: Uber. The private sector found a viable solution that is user-friendly and can be easily accessed (no matter how inebriated the user is) on any smartphone. My point is: it was the private sector that made more contributions to the solution than any legislation or Executive Order.

The goal of these workshops was to hear from industry to discover innovative solutions to combat climate change. I would say: let’s take the time to recognize the vast achievements in greenhouse gas reductions from our main industries. Let’s take this time to recognize the contributions the Central Valley businesses have played in meeting the state’s constantly moving goals. Let’s take this time to celebrate the Central Valley as the state’s essential resource. Let’s also take this time to recognize that no matter how much we do, it will never be enough for the loud voices in Sacramento. This is why it is so critical to be involved in associations fighting for YOUR interests in Sacramento and beyond. I encourage every farmer to be a member of a Farm Bureau, a Taxpayer Association, or join one of the various trade associations such as Dairy Cares, Western Ag Growers, Almond Board of California, California Citrus Mutual, etc. These are the organizations that not only fight for farming, but they bring practical solutions to the table.