In summary

Unfortunately, California’s approach to setting mandates to cut greenhouse gas emissions has left agriculture to become collateral damage.

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By Jamie Johansson, Special to CalMatters

Jamie Johansson is the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, He is an olive and citrus tree grower in Oroville.

It can’t be said enough; California’s farming industry is a cornerstone of this great state – our growers provide food for your families and the world. As we hear so often during this pandemic, farming and agriculture are essential. 

Yet, we are facing unprecedented obstacles to growing and producing the food you pick up at the grocery store or farmers’ market. Many challenges are the result of climate change. We are all too familiar with its impacts.

Our member-farmers strive to be good partners and stewards of the earth to combat climate change, leading our industry to make significant advances to grow more with less water, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and limiting the environmental impact of growing enough food so people can eat. 

We have also increased carbon capture on natural and working farmland by using better soil and tillage practices; that helps offset the amount of carbon emitted in the atmosphere every year. In fact, the most successful greenhouse reduction program on a dollar per ton basis is the Dairy Digester program that traps methane and turns it into electricity or renewable natural gas.

Unfortunately, California’s administration and legislative leadership’s approach to setting mandates to cut greenhouse gas emissions has left agriculture to become collateral damage rather than a meaningful partner in meeting them.

Sacramento leadership continues to be hyper-focused on cutting greenhouse gases rather than furthering other means of reducing carbon, like carbon capture. Every tool and technology available to us to combat climate change must be on the table, we can’t afford otherwise. 

For example, jumping from 40% reductions to 90% reductions in emissions, as Assembly Bill 1395 would mandate, is too significant not to be fully baked. That merely leaves 10% for carbon capture to meet emissions neutrality, but what if we could do more to offset carbon during the transition?

Additionally, the California Air Resources Board is mostly left to its own devices when implementing policy mandates like AB 1395, introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance. Right now, the Air Resources Board is even considering making energy use more expensive for everyone to reduce travel and ultimately emissions. The scathing report released by the California State Auditor on CARB makes it clear that they need more oversight and transparency.

When the administration sets arbitrary climate goals, like banning the traditional gas engine by 2035, without proper infrastructure or other investments it ends up squeezing out the small farms they tout so proudly – we lost 400 small farms in California in 2020, 2021 figures to be worse. Rural areas are hit especially hard because they don’t have the infrastructure to support making drastic changes to energy use.

In the end, growers are paid less for their produce because processors are footing the bill for major overhead to meet new energy policies. Large-scale farms are struggling, but it’s the little farm that is forced to fold up shop.

California cannot sell itself as a bastion for technology yet decide on tunnel-vision for our energy future, especially when policy decisions are disproportionately paid for by low-income communities or the small, underprivileged grower. It’s common knowledge that living and doing business in California is expensive. Everyone feels that burden getting heavier from our energy bills to our grocery bills as a direct result of hastily under-baked energy policies.

Reducing our carbon footprint and lowering emissions cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Californians deserve more accountability and oversight of these energy policies and mandates, who pays dearly for them, and California Air Resources Board’s execution of them.

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