CalCAN Summit Recap

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The 4th Climate & Agriculture Summit at UC Davis was, by all accounts, CalCAN’s most successful Summit yet.

The daylong gathering on March 25 brought together 320 participants, including 65 farmers and ranchers from across California. Our 60+ speakers, panelists, moderators and poster presenters were uniformly excellent, demonstrating the amazing diversity and expertise of CalCAN’s partners and friends.

Overall, the 4th CalCAN Summit was a testament to how far we have collectively come in our work to unleash agricultural solutions to climate change—and an important reminder of the opportunities that still lie ahead.

Honoring Climate & Agriculture Leaders
This year, the summit honored three leaders whose outstanding efforts on climate and agriculture issues are an inspiration to us all.

Before receiving his leadership award, farmer Craig McNamara of Sierra Orchards (Winters, CA) delivered a rousing keynote address. McNamara emphasized that farmers and the public must work together to face drought and climate change, declaring that “our water and our soils are our most precious resources, and we must work together to ensure a sustainable future for our planet.”

State Senator, Lois Wolk (D – Yolo County), received an award for her legislative leadership on issues of farm-based renewable energy, farmland protection, and water management. Accepting the award on her behalf, Will Arnold reiterated the Senator’s commitment to promoting agricultural climate solutions.

This year’s researcher leadership award went to Dr. Stephen Wheeler of UC Davis, whose work demonstrated the benefits of protecting farmland and provided the basis for the state’s first climate-related farmland easement program. In order to tackle climate change, Dr. Wheeler said, we must recognize that “agriculture, climate, and urbanization are all inter-related.”

A Turning Point for State Policy?
Ken Alex, Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, launched us on our discussion of climate and agriculture policy in his morning address

Mr. Alex said the governor sees the opportunities to address climate change emissions through our natural and working lands. He highlighted the cap-and-trade-funded Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program at the Department of Conservation, which he called “one of the only things I’ve worked on in government where everyone supports it,” and signaled that he thinks there’s a strong case for increasing the funds appropriated to it.

CalCAN’s Renata Brillinger and Full Belly Farm’s Judith Redmond (click for audio) summarized our recent policy work on climate and agriculture issues. They pointed to two recent reports: our Growing Solutions: Recommendations to Governor Brown, which includes specific policy suggestions across many issue areas, and our Blueprint for a California Program on Climate & Agriculture, which lays out a vision for how the state can promote broader adoption of climate-friendly agricultural practices.

The main event, however, was CalCAN’s role in the recently-introduced Senate Bill 367, the Agriculture Climate Benefits Act, which is authored by Senator Wolk. Renata and Judith explained how this program would use cap-and-trade funds to incentivize on-farm management practices and farmland conservation as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon in soils and woody biomass.

Bill support letters were circulated and over one-third of the participants signed on. Senate Bill 367 has already received widespread support from farms and ranches, agriculture and environmental organizations, and recently passed through the Senate Agriculture Committee with a unanimous bipartisan vote.

Water Worries, Soil Solutions

This year, the summit’s traditional farmer panel focused on the drought. Kelly Nelson of the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District moderated a lively discussion between Joe Morris (Morris Grassfed, San Benito County), Tom Willey (T&D Willey Farms, Madera County), and Jutta Thoerner (Manzanita Manor Organics, San Luis Obispo County).

The plenary hall audience sat captivated throughout the fifty-minute conversation, as the beginning notes of desperation were balanced by the optimism and inspiration of these three innovative growers.

The farmer panelists illustrated the crucial links between policy and practice, highlighting how last year’s historic groundwater legislation can complement on-farm efforts to build healthier soils and conserve water.

Continuing the Conversation: Workshops

The drought remained a thread of discussion as the summit shifted to workshop sessions in the late morning and afternoon. The following is a snapshot of a few of the sessions.

Some focused directly on policy (Water Policy & What It Means for California Growers) while others took a farm-level view (Practical Solutions to the Drought).

Healthy soils were a big topic as well; insights from the philosophical to the nitty-gritty were shared by researchers and growers alike.

In the Strategies for Building Soil Carbon workshop, farmer Phil Foster showed how he’s significantly increased soil carbon over the years.

Rancher Ward Burroughs of Burroughs Family Farms previewed his machinery and process for creating his “black gold” compost. Ward’s fascinating presentation alternated ‘cool’ and ‘academic’ with the greatest of ease.

In the Compost Policies to Achieve Climate Benefits, Soil Building & Water Storage session, three esteemed compost experts unveiled for us a ground-up vision for how to unleash the multiple co-benefits of soil management across California.

Participants packed into conference rooms to discuss farmland protection in workshops on Emerging Climate Change & Agriculture Programs; Conserving Working Lands as a Climate Protection Strategy; and The Science of Rangeland Management and Climate Protection.

Researchers presented their findings in poster presentations, as well as in the sessions Progress in Assessing Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Climate Solutions on California Farms, and Life Cycle Assessments.

This year’s summit also saw the debut of a new session format – the quick and snappy Lightning Talks were a huge success and showcased just a small fraction of the myriad projects going on all around the state.

The fifteen diverse workshops were a lot to take in; the only major grievance was that it’s tough to be in more than one place at the same time.

Wrapping Up

CalCAN is grateful to everyone who came out for our 4th Climate and Agriculture Summit. This year promises to be a particularly important one for the issues we collectively work on, and to launch into it accompanied by such an impressive group of thinkers and practitioners was a true honor.

Representing CalCAN in this blog is Adam Kotin, CalCAN's Associate Policy Director.