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Local ag looks to spotlight its climate-friendly profile

The Kern County Farm Bureau issued a "call to action" this week asking local growers and ranchers to participate in a series of upcoming meetings that will influence the role California's agricultural lands will be expected to play, or continue to play, in fighting climate change.

Besides asking members to speak up at a series of online meetings the state is hosting this month, the bureau is collecting data it hopes will illustrate local ag producers' "climate-conscious nature" with an eye toward ensuring private industry will continue managing its property "on a voluntary basis," bureau President John C. Moore III said by email.

"The agricultural community is the preeminent conservator of lands and manages to garner the highest and best use of our productive valley soils to the net benefit of the climate," he wrote.

Mirroring a statewide campaign, the bureau's advocacy stems from Gov. Gavin Newsom's October executive order calling for concerted action to promote biodiversity, enhance resiliency and otherwise conserve California agricultural and other lands.

SUSTAINABILITY GOAL

The order's specific goal was to conserve 30 percent of the state's land and coastal waters by 2030. It supported what it termed "economic sustainability" and food security through collaborations involving farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders.

Environmentalists have welcomed Newsom's directive as a needed boost for environmental restoration and responsible land management.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said the order requires it to work with ag stakeholders to identify farmer and rancher-led climate solutions related to healthy soils, water efficiency and dairy methane, on which the state and industry already cooperate.

"The stakeholder meetings are being held to determine what else is out there and what other activities, thoughts or management practices CDFA can potentially incentivize," CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said by email Thursday.

FARMER HESITANCE

Some farmers have greeted the state's interest with caution because of concerns the state could impose changes on how they use their land.

Industry groups say it's important ag gets full credit for the environmentally beneficial practices it already uses, and that any new directives not erode farmers' profitability.

Some change looks inevitable. Farmland is expected to be fallowed in the years ahead as the state moves toward sustainable groundwater management to address over-pumping that has caused land to sink and irrigation canals to slow.

Property idled by lack of irrigation will likely lead to the kind of permanent easements conservationists are looking for. These could compensate property owners financially for allowing their property to return to its natural state.

But ag leaders worry the state's carbon-cutting ambitions don't stop there with regard to how farmland should be used or left unused.

'ON THE MENU'?

The president of the California Farm Bureau, Jamie Johansson, warned in a post Wednesday that anyone not at the table during the state meetings is "probably on the menu." Information gathered at the meetings will establish a baseline that will ultimately guide decisions on "who deserves the carrot — and who gets the stick."

Johansson noted California growers already plant cover crops that improve soil health and manages pests, among other beneficial practices. Farmers in the state have for years used no-till farming and apply compost "without state or federal incentives," he wrote.

He added this is probably the first time California ag's carbon-burying capacity has taken the spotlight even though the industry has long emphasized its work in that regard.

Any new state directives should be easy to understand and implement, he wrote, and ideally any new guidelines should be "more like a menu and less like a checklist." The goal should be to keep farmland productive and economically viable.

"For farms and ranches to meet their conservation goals, they must first meet their economic goals," he stated. "That's true sustainability."

STATE PROCESS

This month's series of two-hour meetings are organized around three ag categories: dairy and livestock, annual crops and perennials such as trees and vines.

A summary will be released after the series of meetings concludes, and that report will be the subject of a 30-day public comment period.

After that the information will be shared among state agencies assigned to promoting ag-led climate solutions. It will also inform other state-led efforts regarding climate change.

People can register to participate in the online workshops at www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/climate.