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2021 Policy Priorities for California’s Agricultural Future

An Open Letter to Governor Gavin Newsom

 

Dear Governor Newsom:

More than 40 years ago, American Farmland Trust launched the nation’s conservation agriculture movement and has been bringing together agriculture and environment ever since. We take a holistic approach to farmland and ranchland, protecting the most productive land from development, promoting environmentally sound farming practices, and keeping farmers on the land.

As such, in California, AFT is positioned to support the Newsom Administration and the state legislature to make progress in these areas.

Agricultural lands provide California and its people with benefits that allow for a healthy and vibrant economy, population, and environment. In 2020, a year no one will forget, a pandemic continues to rage through the state, catastrophic fires burn and increase in size and intensity, and Californians have become more aware and more dependent on essential farmers and farmworkers, who feed and harvest our agricultural bounty.

In 2021 we must get it right.

We face many challenges. Everchanging climate threats and dwindling resources. Aging farmers, who now average 59 years old. A growing population causing increasing demands on the conversion of agricultural lands for new and affordable housing. It’s clear we need a more resilient and equitable agricultural system in California.

Building climate resiliency starts in the health of our soils. Healthy soils are better able to meet the needs of a changing climate, as well as increase drought resiliency and improve groundwater reliability.

It’s vitally important to protect California’s most productive, versatile, and resilient agricultural lands, while providing secure land tenure for the next generation of farmers, as well as improving program equity and access for farmers of color and women.

To tackle these issues head on, AFT recommends embracing the following priorities in 2021:

  • Climate Change/Adaptation – Agriculture plays a vital role in mitigating the climate impacts that lead to the more intense and catastrophic wildfires and other natural disasters. Permanently protecting farmland and ranchland is likely to have the single greatest impact in stabilizing and reducing future emissions across multiple land uses. By cutting farmland loss by 75% by 2050, we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to the equivalent of taking 1.9 million cars off the road each year. If California is to combat climate change, then policies and stable funding must be put into place for the permanent protection of prime agricultural lands, along with aggressive avoided conversion goals. For this to be successful, policy efforts should be closely coordinated across state responsibility areas as California works to advance the recently signed Executive Order N-82-20 on Natural Working Lands and Biodiversity and the state’s next Climate Scoping Plan.
  • Land Tenure – The rapidly rising age of California’s farmers indicates an impending crisis on the horizon. Along with training new and beginning farmers, the state must address issues like land tenure or access to land, so farmers can have greater certainty in land decisions. Addressing land access and tenure issues can lead to improved stewardship outcomes on more agricultural land.
  • Regenerative Agriculture – The state should scale up its commitment to accelerate regenerative agricultural practices through the Healthy Soils Program by funding $50 million annually to meet farmers’ needs and put California on the path to meeting its ambitious climate goals to reduce greenhouse gases and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Water – Increasing technical assistance and conservation planning for agricultural producers will be essential to help the most impacted communities be successful in achieving the state’s ambitious goals established in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (2014). When farms and ranches are managed for multiple benefits, they help protect the most valuable and productive agricultural land, protect key surface and groundwater supplies, and support critical habitats for fish and wildlife.
  • Funding – It’s critical to cultivate new pathways, which leverage public-private partnerships that match the scale and demand necessary to implement these regenerative practices statewide. New corporate and private funding sources should be incentivized so California is well-positioned to leverage federal funding opportunities, such as Farm Bill programs that can improve state outcomes on working lands.
Agriculture offers the most promising solutions in our fight against climate change—but only when we support farming can it fulfill its promise to feed us and heal our planet.

California's Policy Priorities

Download a free copy of AFT's policy recommendations for California to protect vital agricultural land, promote environmentally sound growing practices, and keep farmers on the land for generations.

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About the Author
Katie Patterson

California Policy Manager

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