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Amidst California’s ongoing drought, farms and ranches have taken a variety of steps to adjust their practices to cope with less water and sustained heat.

new report commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) finds that, as a result of these coping mechanisms, the agriculture sector consumes noticeably more electricity in drought years than in normal years. What’s more, the increase in electricity usage varies significantly by agricultural sub-sector.

A detailed look at this data reveals some of the opportunities to achieve even greater water and energy efficiencies so that agricultural producers can survive future droughts without suffering astronomical energy costs on top of all the other stresses a drought can bring.

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The USDA’s climate change efforts are underway. Climate change is now officially embedded in the Department’s strategic goals, one of which seeks to make forests and working lands “more resilient to climate change." A 2011 Departmental Regulation requires USDA agencies to consider climate change impacts when making long-term planning decisions.

Meanwhile, USDA spending on climate change-related actions has grown in recent years – during FY 2013, USDA says it budgeted approximately $186 million across six of its agencies for climate change related research, outreach, and financial incentives.

USDA and the federal government have come a long way in starting to address the realities of climate change. But until the Department shifts its focus to existing, ‘shovel-ready,' sustainable agriculture solutions to climate change, we will not achieve the level of change that is needed.

Inordinate Focus on Biomass and Biorefineries

Over half of the $186 million in USDA’s FY 2013 climate change dollars were allocated to renewable energy programs —specifically biomass research and development.

According to a recent report, $88 million, or 47% of the USDA’s total climate change budget, went to just two biomass and biorefinery research programs. These programs seek to develop technologies for industrial-scale conversion of agricultural and forestry materials and by-products for fuels and electricity generation.

The inordinate focus of climate change funds on these projects—which will likely benefit only large agri-business interests, and few of them in California—is disappointing. Rather than throwing more millions into technology development, USDA should instead be focusing its efforts on ways to strengthen the resilience of all farmers and ranchers while also achieving on-farm greenhouse gas reductions.

By contrast, financial incentives for farmers to install renewable energy or improve energy efficiencies through the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program amounted to less than $13 million (7 percent).

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The California Climate and Agriculture Network's California legislative round up relevant to climate change for 2014.

 

Farmland Protection

Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (Stockton) authored the Farmland Conservation Strategy Act (AB 1961). The bill would have required counties with significant farmland resources to inventory their agricultural lands and describe their goals/policies to retain farmland and mitigate for its loss. AB 1961 passed through the Assembly Local Government and Agriculture Committees, but was held over in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May 2014, after seeing intense opposition from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA).

Despite this, California is moving forward with addressing farmland conservation and climate change issues.  The Strategic Growth Council in partnership with the Resources Agency has proposed draft guidelines for a new agricultural lands conservation program [pdf] aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with sprawl development.

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