California Governor Jerry Brown has always been ahead of the curve on environmental sustainability.
During his first term as governor in the 1970s, he authorized a first-ever tax incentive for rooftop solar and rolled back a tax break for oil companies.
He helped make water conservation a way of life during the 1976-77 drought, a California ethos that largely persists to this day.
Now in his fourth (and final) term in office, Governor Brown has an opportunity to round out this impressive environmental résumé: he can transform California into a climate-friendly farming pioneer.
As Brown made clear in his inaugural address in January, California is upping the ante even further in its fight against climate change. Agriculture needs to be a big part of the solution.
California’s agriculture industry is twice as large as that of any other state. It ranks among the biggest agricultural economies in the world. Farms in California cover 25.5 million acres, nearly a quarter of the state’s landmass.
At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that globally, agriculture could offset up to 20 perce of annual greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States and Canada alone, improved management of agricultural lands could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 374 MtCO2e by 2030 – the equivalent of taking nearly 80 million cars off the roads annually.
A vanguard of California farmers is exploring ways to be more climate-friendly while growing delicious, healthy food for all of us to eat. More and more research is showing how sustainable agricultural practices can provide a net benefit for the climate.
In the same way it has led the nation on clean tech, energy efficiency, and water conservation, California can pave the way for farming systems that reduce pesticide and synthetic fertilizer emissions, turn soils into carbon sponges, protect agricultural land from development, bolster rural communities, and prepare for the worst impacts of climate change.
When Jerry Brown took office in 2010, climate-friendly agriculture wasn’t even on the radar. Thanks in part to his policies, on-farm renewable energy production in the state nearly tripled in the first few years of his term. In 2014, his administration allocated over $30 million for agricultural projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including several programs that are the first of their kind. His proposed budget for 2015-16 continues these investments and outlines a novel ‘Healthy Soils’ effort to increase carbon in soil and establish relevant long-term goals.
And in his January inaugural address, the Governor mentioned agriculture only once – that was to say: “We must manage farm and rangelands…so they can store carbon.”
With the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund likely to have at least $2 billion to spend on climate change-fighting projects each year, now is the time to invest in agricultural solutions.
Meanwhile, the drought has refocused attention on agriculture’s vulnerabilities, perhaps making climate-friendly practices a higher priority for the average California farmer.
In his previous twelve years as California Governor, Jerry Brown has sparked innovative drives toward sustainability that left us all better off.
Will he do it again for farming?
This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared on the California Climate & Agriculture Network website April 7, 2015.