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CFBF president's message: Farmers merit transparency as partners in climate protection

Issue Date: October 6, 2021
Jamie Johansson CAFB President

California's farming industry is a cornerstone of this great state and a major component of international commerce. Our growers provide food for California families and beyond, including almost 16% of the U.S. annual agricultural export market. As we have heard so often during this pandemic, farming and agriculture—more broadly—are essential.

Unfortunately, agriculture continues to face unprecedented obstacles to growing and producing the very food you're able to purchase at the grocery store or farmers market. Many of agriculture's challenges are the result of climate change.

Whether we choose to politicize that or not, farmers have and will continue to feel its impacts. The climatic challenges we face—drought, floods, invasive pests and crop disease, wildfire and so many other factors—have long forged agriculture's story of persistence and adaptability. Agriculture has indeed been the canary in the coal mine.

Our member-farmers also strive to be good partners and stewards of the earth to combat climate change. They have led our industry to make significant advances to grow more with less water, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the environmental impact of growing food—while ensuring there are sufficient, nutritious provisions for people to eat.

We have also increased carbon capture on natural and working farmland. We're using better soil and tillage practices that help offset the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

In fact, the most successful greenhouse reduction program on a dollar-per-ton basis is the Dairy Digester program. It traps methane and turns it into electricity or renewable natural gas.

But California's administration and legislative leadership's approach to setting mandates to cut greenhouse gas emissions has left agriculture as collateral damage. We find ourselves vilified as polluters, rather than regarded as meaningful partners in meeting, establishing and maintaining emission goals.

We are a source—or emitter—of greenhouse gases. Yet we are also a sink that captures those gases to reduce carbon pollution. Sacramento continues to be focused on cutting greenhouse emissions rather than furthering other means of cutting carbon, such as carbon capture. Every tool and technology available to us to combat climate change must be on the table.

For example, jumping from 40% reductions to 90% reductions in emissions, as was proposed by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi in Assembly Bill 1395, represented a significant step that merited thorough review. That proposal merely left 10% for carbon capture to meet emissions neutrality.

But what if we could do more to offset carbon during the transition to higher standards?

Ultimately, Assembly Bill 1395 lacked the votes to pass before the Legislature adjourned. That doesn't mean the intent of the bill is no longer a matter for serious policy discussions.

The fact that the bill stalled should now be an opportunity to do what should have been done in the first place. Let's begin a dialogue with all stakeholders. Let's not spontaneously set a goal without any glide path on how to meet it. Let's find consensus, and certainty on our route forward.

Right now, the California Air Resources Board is mostly left to its own devices when implementing legislative policies. CARB and state legislators are even considering making energy use more expensive for everyone. Their emissions-cutting goal is intended to raise costs so that travel will become too expensive for many Californians.

A scathing report released by the California State Auditor on CARB makes it clear that the board needs more oversight and transparency. Our state administration is setting arbitrary climate goals, such as banning internal combustion engines by 2035, without providing proper infrastructure or other investments to support those demands.

That ends up squeezing out the small family farms that politicians and other officials tout so proudly. We lost 400 farms in California in 2020, and 2021 figures could be worse.

Many agricultural communities are hit especially hard, because they don't have the infrastructure to support making major changes that may be required for future energy use. State investments in California's rural communities, especially related to electrical vehicle infrastructure, are lacking.

Coupled with de-energization strategies designed both to protect investor-owned utility infrastructure and communities from utility-sparked wildfires, rural California faces an even worsening challenge with energy reliability.

California cannot sell itself as a bastion for technology yet decide with tunnel vision for our energy future. That's especially true because such policy decisions are disproportionately paid for by low-income communities or small-scale growers.

It's common knowledge that living and doing business in California is expensive. People feel that burden getting heavier as our bills for electricity and groceries keep increasing as a direct result of hasty, undercooked energy policies.

Reducing our carbon footprint and lowering emissions cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach. Californians deserve more accountability and oversight of these energy policies and mandates. The California Air Resources Board's execution of them must be inclusive and transparent or the rest of us may pay dearly.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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