California Climate Solutions achieving environmental goals + creating business opportunities

Room to Grow

How California Agriculture Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • The agricultural sector in California is particularly at risk from the impacts of climate change but also has a major role to play in the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction efforts. In the short term, agriculture leaders can adopt immediate and cost-effective farming practices that will reduce GHG emissions. In the long-term, policy-makers will need to assist industry efforts to generate renewable energy from agricultural byproducts and to research new and cost-effective practices and technologies to reduce GHG emissions from agricultural commodities.

Emissions from agriculture comprise approximately six percent of the state’s total GHG emissions annually. Nationally, this  figure is closer to seven percent, and animal agriculture alone contributes eighteen percent of all GHG emissions worldwide.

Failure to mitigate climate change and to reduce the state’s carbon footprint will have significant economic consequences. California agriculture is a $36 billion per year industry and represents the world’s fifth largest supplier of food and other agriculture commodities.

Water use in California entails a significant amount of energy consumption. Pumping water around the state for farms and people consumes almost 20 percent of the state’s total electricity supply. The State Water Project alone is the single largest user of electricity in the state.

Policy Needs

Policy Solutions

Increasing Research on Technologies and Best Practices That Will Reduce GHGs.

Improve and Expand Existing Research Programs.

Agricultural Leaders

Prioritize most promising areas of research to target GHG-reducing research funds.

Researchers can be aided in identifying areas with the most potential for cost-effective solutions / leverage existing research on lucrative commodities to attract government and foundation funds.

Agricultural Leaders

Build political will to secure research funds.

Industry leaders will need to build coalitions and public will to redirect public and private research funds to projects that will reduce GHGs from agriculture e.g. work with environmentalists and renewable energy advocates that share common purpose.

Federal & State Leaders

Redirect public funding for GHG research and development programs.

Discretionary grant and research funds can be redirected to projects that analyze best management practices and new technologies that reduce GHG emissions from agriculture.

Federal & State Leaders

Expand existing public research programs.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) represent three government programs that could research methods of reducing GHG emissions from various agricultural commodities.

Federal & State Leaders

Provide targeted regulatory relief for pilot programs to encourage experimentation.

Many federal statutes designed to address local health impacts from air and water pollutants, may prevent pilot research programs from being implemented to test various GHG-reduction proposals. The state and federal governments should direct agencies to allow limited, pilot-scale experimentation for technologies that might have a total net benefit for air quality and GHG reduction.

Improving Access to Financing for New Equipment & Supplies.

Strengthen and Expand Existing Incentive and Financing Programs.

Federal & State Leaders

Develop innovative financing programs such as loan funds.

Farmers and ranchers may need capital advances that they can repay in installments from future savings from using new technologies. For example, using less fertilizer or applying irrigation techniques that conserve water will save money. But it may require investment in equipment and training at the outset. A federal revolving loan fund or “green bank” could offer the necessary capital at a low interest rate.

Federal & State Leaders

Provide public grants and capital support.

Farmers and ranchers who are willing to invest in GHG-reducing equipment and practices should be eligible for government grants and buy-out programs for purchases that will reduce emissions over time. Policymakers could model such a program on the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program, which is a collaborative program among CARB and local air districts to offer grants and  financial support to projects that reduce air pollution.

Minimizing Regulatory Conflicts and Permitting Delays.

Streamline and Consolidate the Regulatory Environment for GHG-Reducing Projects.

Agriculture Leaders

Compile and prioritize a list of the regulations and regulatory problems that impede new GHG-reducing technologies.

Critics may suspect that the industry wants to roll back regulatory standards, so a comprehensive analysis of the regulatory burdens, with specific examples, could create momentum for streamlining existing programs

Agriculture Leaders

Craft a workable solution that would balance the need for more permitting certainty for renewable technologies with the air pollution requirements for local air districts.

Methane digesters may result in an overall reduction of GHG emissions by generating renewable energy that offsets power produced by fossil fuel-based production. However, these digesters produce emissions of nitrogen oxide, which contribute to air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley (which has one of the worst levels of ozone pollution in the United States) and other impacted air basins.

State Leaders

Create an ombudsman office within state agencies to resolve regulatory conflicts and simplify the permit process.

When state regulations work at cross-purposes, an ombudsman with a clear and focused directive should be able to arbitrate among them. For projects that reduce GHG emissions, an ombudsman should help create a streamlined permitting process that collapses the multiple permits into one.

The Governor, State Legislators, California Energy Commission (CEC), & the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

Encourage biomass and other on-farm renewable energy production systems by improving the existing feed-in tariff and removing barriers to interconnecting the facilities to the grid.

A feed-in tariff provides payments that decline over time for certain renewable energy fed into the grid. The existing feed-in tariff, however, provides a rate of payment that is too low to stimulate significant demand. If the CPUC or legislature improved the payment rate and increased the size limit on facilities eligible to participate in the program, the state could stimulate large-scale investment in renewable energy technology.

Federal Officials & State Legislators

Assist irrigation efficiency goals by supporting research to help farmers measure irrigation performance outcomes rather than total water utilized.

For example, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, a collaborative initiative of farmers, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, is considering an on-farm water use efficiency metric that combines different metrics to encourage the best outcomes.

Raising Awareness of Opportunities to Reduce GHG Emissions.

Promote GHG-Reducing Practices that have Demonstrated Cost-Savings Potential.

Agriculture Leaders

Partner with local nonprofit organizations and research groups to promote innovative practices.

For example, the Conservation Tillage Workgroup, a project of UC Davis, researches the most cost-effective and sustainable methods of farming and shares the best practices on its website. This type of project and others like it should serve as a model for information sharing and promotion.

Agriculture Leaders

Persuade policymakers to develop and implement a program to provide funding and technical assistance for farmers who comply with standards that promote environmentally and economically sustainable practices.

Such a program in California and throughout the nation could encourage agricultural businesses to adopt cutting-edge techniques for reducing GHG emissions. It could also serve as a vehicle to promote these methods to farmers and ranchers.

Climate Change Advocates & Agriculture Leaders

Lobby the government to implement an insurance program to cover farmers in case of losses from new GHG-fighting technologies and practices.

The program would be funded by insurance premiums and function similar to a crop insurance program. This safety net may encourage farmers to adopt innovative technologies and practices without fear of significant losses.

Agriculture Leaders

Promote climate-friendly practices and production.

Agriculture marketers should develop an environmentally-conscious marketplace for each commodity. Many agriculture leaders cite the role that winemakers and grape growers played in making sustainable growing practices a selling point for wine. Other commodity growers can take similar steps to market their products as climate-friendly based on their growing practices.

“California Air Resources Board estimates for California agriculture GHG emissions would be substantially higher if the agency included emissions from the production of fertilizers and pesticides and from energy use associated with water pumping."

Convening Report, Room to Grow