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A: I would say any farmer already has the skill set to practice climate smart farming. If there are practices that are unfamiliar, farmers can learn about implementation and management via field days and working with UC Cooperative Extension, NRCS, CAFF and other organizations that provide technical assistance. Climate smart farming is less about a specific skill set, and more about motivation and interested in learning and thinking about the farm as an agroecosystem.
Q: How are experienced farmers teaching farm workers?
A: I think this depends on the area and certainly the farm. There are experienced farmers that make a point to train farm workers beyond what their job requires. There are several programs that off farmer training, some that target training farm workers to become farm operators. One such organization that we often partner with is the Agricultural Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) located in the Salinas Valley.
A: Are there programs helping lesser skilled/new/immigrant farmers?
Q: There are programs, most of which take the form of farm academy and incubator programs. Many well established farms also have apprenticeship where people can live and work on a farm for a year or two in order to get experience. CAFF works with many beginning farmers in all of our programs, as well as with immigrant farmers. Our Climate Smart Farming Program runs pilot projects which include both beginning farmers and immigrant farmers.
Q: What are the key requirements to have smart farming practices gain more widespread adoption? (e.g. financial support for cover crops or rotation extra costs?; negative "penalties" for too much run-off; speaker payments to reach out to farmers to promote new practices)
A: There are many barriers/ motivations to adopting climate smart farming practices. The key strategies that CAFF is working on to remove these barriers and increase adoption are: 1) Policy advocacy in Sacramento that works with legislators and stake holders to ensure that agriculture is included in our state policies to address climate change. This work has resulted in programs like the Healthy Soils program which provide financial incentives to farms to try different climate smart/healthy soils practices. 2) Pilot and demonstration projects enable use to work with farmers interested in trying out climate smart farming practices with support from CAFF. This helps reduce some of the risk, and provides resources and soil health analysis to better understand how the climate smart farming practices are improving the soil. 3) Farmer to Farmer field days are an essential component to expanding the adoption of climate smart farming. These field days bring together farmers of different levels of experience and technical assistance providers to share knowledge and experience around different climate smart farming practices.
Q: Since cover crops require a reliable source of water, is cover cropping a Northern California luxury? Seems like the Central Valley would be a hard region to scale-up the practice.
A: Good question! A key component of all climate smart farming practices is to take into account the climate, soil type and environment where the farm is located. Because Northern California receives more rain than the southern part of the central valley, winter cover crops are generally more feasible in areas north of Stockton.
Q: What can environmental groups do to help foster these informal farmer-to-farmer networks?
A: At CAFF, we really value collaboration with other organizations interested in this work. We believe it's important to not reinvent the wheel. If there are environmental organizations that would like to help promote farmer to farmer networks, I would encourage them to get in touch with CAFF or other technical assistance providers that work with farmers, UC Cooperative extension, Resources Conservation Districts, NRCS, etc.
Q: "Scaling up" is a key issue for financially stable farming. How can climate smart practices be applied to 10 acres? to 100 acres? to 1000 acres?
A: Scaling up can happen in different ways. One version of scaling up is having an increase in the number of small-scale farms implementing practices like bio-intensive no-till, which is certainly manually intensive and thus not realistic for large acreage farms. Another type of scaling up, and the way we usually talk about it is implementing practices on larger acreage. Here, the feasibility of scaling up climate smart farming practices depends on the practice itself. Cover cropping, composting, improving irrigation efficiency, crop rotation are practices that have been scaled to tens of thousands of acres on large farms. Even integrating livestock into cropping systems and planting hedgerows have been implemented on large acreage operations. No-till is a practice that exists in many forms. Obviously bio-intensive manual labor-based no-till is not for large acreage, but there is a lot of research going into larger scale no-till that is achieve through specialized equipment. Research bodies like the Rodale Institute are putting a lot of effort into developing this.
Q: [For Rich] Epiphanies or life experience are oftentimes catalysts of change. What was your epiphany that made you change towards "climate smart agriculture?"
A: In December 2015 I found myself frequently driving up and down the Sacramento River between Rio Vista and Courtland for work. Winter rains had not really started. For the most part the river was running a bit low with a very blue/green color. In early January we received a "nice" winter storm, dropping maybe 2 - 3 inches of rain over the course of a couple of days. Nothing torrential whatsoever. About two days later the appearance of the river had completely changed. Flows were up just a bit but the water had turned markedly browner - vastly difference from the prior blue/green color of the water. What the heck had happened? I decided to start taking some back roads home between Rio Vista and Davis. The next rainy period confirmed my suspicions: These modest rains produced relatively copious amounts of runoff from ag fields (both orchards and row crop ground) left bare without any residue nor growing cover. That water hit the extensive drains common throughout the area and shortly thereafter ended up in the river, along with lots of soil (thus the browning of the river) and most likely fair amounts of fertilizer and some pesticides. Crazy. This has to stop....