Three Reflections on Climate and Agriculture
By Peter Fugazzotto,
May 6, 2019
Earlier this year, three members of our stewardship team attended the California Climate and Agricultural Summit held at the UC Davis Conference Center.
While we learned a lot at the conference, here are three important points we want to share with you.
What is happening in Marin is happening in the rest of the state.
Here in Marin, we recently experienced an extreme winter with heavy rains, flooding creeks, landslides and toppling trees. Last summer, we felt the impacts of wildfires with a fire on Black Mountain and smoky air from larger fires to the north and east.
During the conference, we heard similar stories from ranchers up and down the state. They are witnessing changes on the landscape and more extreme weather events — from heavier rains and flooding to higher temperatures and drought-like conditions.
This new normal has made ranchers and farmers realize that they need to change the way that they do business to protect the land and their livelihoods.
For many, this has meant shifting their livestock and land management processes or even changing the types of crops that they are growing. For example, farmers just east of San Diego are pulling out their more water-intensive avocado trees and replacing them with crops that demand less water. One rancher explained that he now must pull his cattle off his ranch in the central foothills and bring them to Modoc County as much as one month earlier than he has in years past because the prime growing season has shortened in the foothill region.
Resilience plays a vital role in the future of ranching and farming.
Resilience in its simplest terms is the ability of a system to return to its natural state after a disturbance or ongoing stress. For a ranch, resilience is the ability to continue operating through weather and economic stresses like droughts, floods and changing markets.
With this in mind, ranchers and farmers are managing their lands for increased resilience.
MALT’s partner ranchers and farmers are already putting into place practices that are building the resilience of their land and their operations.
These practices include:
- Compost application
- Cover cropping
- Native plant restoration
- Manure management
- Rotational grazing
- Developing water systems to buffer for drier years
A recent example of MALT promoting resilience was the Hands-on Soil Health Workshop that we held to teach folks about soil health, how to sample their soil and measure its health and actions they could take to improve their soil.
The work we are doing in Marin parallels the work going on across the state.
Technical assistance and funding are critical to supporting ranchers and farmers for creating more resilient landscapes.
The economics of running a successful ranch or farm are never easy with a long list of competing interests.
Fortunately, local, state and federal agencies are providing technical assistance and funding to help create more resilient working landscapes.
On a state level, California has three Climate Smart Agricultural incentive programs:
- The Healthy Soils Initiative, which focuses on sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,
- The Alternative Manure Management Program, which focuses on reducing methane emissions and limiting the effects of climate change, and
- The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, which focuses on saving water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
At the local level, MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program can provide matching funding for our ranchers and farmers participating in these programs. We also provide technical assistance in the application for funding, project design and project implementation.
Conferences like this serve as a great opportunity for MALT staff to hear firsthand how others are managing a changing climate and to connect with agencies, other nonprofits and farmers and ranchers. These conferences also reaffirm that the work we are doing on a local level plays a critical role in addressing global climate issues.