Farm Food Facts

California Department of Ag Signs the Decade of Ag (Part 2)

April 20, 2021 USFRA Episode 106
Farm Food Facts
California Department of Ag Signs the Decade of Ag (Part 2)
Show Notes Transcript

We continue our important discussion on the universal support of agriculture. Today's episode focuses on the Herculean efforts of two States, Maryland, and California, and the farmers who make those States great through the USFRA's Decade of Ag effort, Earth Day, and the public private partnerships, which we are all focused on the future of sustainable agriculture. In the previous episode, we heard about what's happening in Maryland, where the number one industry is actually farming. Now we travel across the country to California to continue the discussion with California's Secretary of Ag, Karen Ross and Don Cameron, President of the California State Board of Food and Ag.

Phil:

Welcome to Farm Food Facts. I'm your host, Phil Lempert. We continue our important discussion on the universal support of agriculture. Today's episode focuses on the Herculean efforts of two States, Maryland, and California, and the farmers who make those States great through the USFRA's Decade of Ag effort, Earth Day, and the public private partnerships, which we are all focused on the future of sustainable agriculture. In the previous episode, we heard about what's happening in Maryland, where the number one industry is actually farming. Now we travel across the country to California, where I am, to continue the discussion with Karen Ross. One of my favorite Secretaries of Agriculture and Don Cameron, President of the California state board of food and ag. Secretary Ross was reappointed secretary of the California department of food and agriculture on January 9th, 2019 by governor Gavin Newsom. She was initially appointed by one of my favorite governors do governor Jerry Brown Jr . In 2011 in reappointing, secretary Ross, governor Newsome cited her unmatched leadership experience in agriculture issues on a national level internationally. And obviously here in California, including environmental stewardship, climate change adaptation and trade. Don is the vice president and general manager of Teranova ranch near Fresno, California, and farm 6,000 plus acres of their own as well as another 1500 acres for other clients. They farm conventional and organic tomatoes, peppers, onions, corns , walnuts, wine grapes, almonds, pistachios, and olives for olive oil. Just about everything that you could do, Ms . Secretary Don, welcome to our discussions on the future of ag here on Farm Food Facts.

Karen:

Thanks Phil. But please call me Karen. Okay.

Phil:

I will. I will.

Don:

Thank you, Phil . It's great to be here with you.

Phil:

I was going to suggest that Don was then going to say, well, you've got to call me Mr. President. Exactly.

Don:

Don works fine .

Phil:

We often say that this next decade matters most for the sector. Now you're both clear leaders in action. What does this mean for California? Karen? Why don't you start with that?

Karen:

Sure . I'll start with the easy things. Climate water, drought. That's a good frame up, right? But that also by talking about these big complex issues also stresses why it's so important to take action in this decade. That sense of urgency, whether it's partnership With farmers and ranchers, to know so many of the solutions that have to come from the land and how we manage the land and implement our practices. It's also important as a government that we're helping to fill the gaps on research. And we know that in California, we need much more regionalized specifics on some of our practices. Not only agrinomically how to implement them, but what are the economics to help farmers make all those decisions that they make on a daily basis about if I do this, how's it connected to that? What are the trade-offs ? And it's important for us in government to get the policy signals, right? And to use the investment dollars that we do have available in the smartest most strategic way to support the work on the land. So I do feel a sense of urgency. We feel it every day, we've been feeling with warmer temperatures in the winter time, we feel that with the pest pressures that have been exacerbated, we feel it with wildfire. And now once again, with drought, that's my sense of urgency. This decade really matters.

Phil:

And Don talk to us about your sense of urgency as, as a farmer

Don:

Phil, we've, we've seen a lot of changes in what we do and how we operate, and we've seen our changes , uh , seasons , uh, we're planting earlier, we're, we're growing later into the fall, but we're also experienced some of the downsides of , of some real high temperatures during the middle of the summer that we, we usually would maybe have for a short period, are turning into longer spells that really are affecting our farming. Uh, we know that this decade is going to be critical for California farms. We know that if we don't take action, now we may not be farming. What we're farming curve . Uh, we, we just know that the diversity that we have here in California could be in jeopardy. Uh , we really don't want to see that. We want to see that the future is bright and holds the same promise it did when I was young. So we hope to continue the process and , and know that if we don't make changes now , uh, this really will affect the future of California agriculture.

Phil:

So Don, when I look at those maps , um, that , um , USDA creates that are color-coded for the amount of crops , uh, or the type of crops that are grown in every state. Uh , there's no question that California has the most variety, has the most colors to it , uh, than any other state, perhaps, you know, any other place on the planet. Um, so from what I'm hearing from you is that's at risk.

Don:

You know, we grow over 400 crops here in California and the, we have enabled us to, to grow the variety that we do. Um, if we start to see shift in, in , uh, seasons and temperatures , uh, we, we definitely know it's , it's at risk and , uh, we, we really want to do all we can to prevent that. Uh , you know, we're, we're constantly changing, we're changing , uh , technology, everything we can , uh, we need to be doing. And , uh, and California has been very receptive in providing incentive programs for growers to take that next step without being , uh , at risk financially. We're currently, you know, heading into another year of drought. We, we had a five-year drought from 2012 to 2017, and here we are back in a drought again, you know, with , uh , water shortages and cutbacks for not only farmers, but communities throughout the state. And we know that we have to act, we need to be better prepared for resiliency in the future.

Phil:

So Karen , um, if I can be so bold , um, knowing you for a bit , um, reading lots about you, your career is all about collaboration and whether it's on the farm level, whether it's on the political level. I mean, you're one of those people who really focus on everybody working together. And just last night, I happened to be watching the news and I saw a commercial from a certain car company that , um, has decided that their next effort is actually planting in California five. I think it's 500,000 trees , uh, because of what we've gone through , um, with our fires and so on. Um, are we at the point where we're going beyond just farmers and ranchers and supermarkets and everybody else where everybody understands the situation about agriculture and they're starting to step up to the party.

Karen:

Yes. And I would have to say that's one of the reasons I'm so excited about what us farmers and ratchets and action has done is the first time in my very long career, because only, you know, how old I really am fell to see the kind of unify communication and planning and working together across the entire food and ag value chain. That is the only way we're going to be effective in approaching fast . We know that large national and international companies are worried about sustainable sourcing. And so they've set their own goals some a decade ago, thinking this was so easy, but now understand the importance and the power of partnering with, and co-investing at the farm level, but we have to think about the whole chain together, you know, including the financial sector, the insurance sector, the packaging sector, I mean food and ag is big and complex. And we have to get out of our silos and collaborate together to understand how each piece of this can work together to help us all be successful. And I think at the end of the day, people are responding to this generation of millennials who are very aware who feel very globally connected, who are helping to raise the pressure points on what are you doing? This is the earth I'm going to inherit. I want to be able to have good nourishing food. I want to make sure that we're taking care of the earth and our natural resources to the extent that we all possibly can, and that we're protecting species. They have big lofty goals for us and they're going to hold us accountable.

Phil:

And I think he goes to also down Karen to the supermarket level, you know, one of the best supermarkets in the country that I'm very proud is here in California, even though it's in Northern California, Raley's , um, has, has people now going out to farms and to ranches, it's led by Yvette waters. Who's their registered diets are she leads their health and wellness effort, but she's now visiting all these , um, farms and ranchers to make sure that their values are aligned with Raley's . How fabulous is that

Karen:

It is in some ways it can sound a little bit scary, but I think it's one of the greatest opportunities we have to work closely direct and bring people together at the farm level where their food chain starts present as a consumer and understand what they eat well, improve their health over the decades. You know, it's called healthy aging and I believe in itself, but it all begins with our diet and knowing who's growing it, how they're growing it and where it comes from.

Phil:

Absolutely. So let's drill down to the state level. And this is for , um, Karen, both you and Dawn, what are some of the specific, sustainable ag initiatives that are being done in California that you're most excited about? Karen, why don't you get us started?

Karen:

Yeah, no , to narrow it down, I'm going to say, I'm going to narrow it down to the topic of climate smart agriculture, which, you know, the work that was done on research, as well as the nomenclature establishing as national and international terminology at USTA . So we built our programs when the decision was made, that we want to invest in agriculture to support its transition to at that time, the low carbon part of our economy. But now we're all seeking to be carbon neutral. We invest in some of our cap and trade auctions in healthy soils, dry down carbon sequestered for productivity, nutrient cycling and water-holding capacity. Our first climate smart ag program was our on-farm water. You sufficiency , which becomes even more important than the drought methane reduction, which is a short-lived climate pollutant and partnering with our dairy families to invest in dairy digesters and alternative manure management practices to turn that mineral waste stream and to Cal power, low carbon fuels, renewable electricity, noble , natural gas. Those are the programs that are housed at the department of food and agriculture and have tremendous popularity with the farming community. Done helped shape some of those programs that only as precedent of our state board, he also served as president or the chairman of our marginal farming science panel. So he's very familiar with them and knows the power of those programs on the farm.

Phil:

So Don, which of those programs or others are you most excited about?

Don:

Well, we know that the, the water efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction program that we, that we , uh, CVFA has put out , um, came from the mental science panel and it was so oversubscribed . Uh, it was really hard to believe, but , uh, and that's mainly about water efficiency on farm and reduction of greenhouse gases. So I think probably the first time the two were put together in one program and to see the , uh, the excitement and the growers , uh, applying and wanting to be a part of this program was really phenomenal. Um, we know that growers are concerned that as I said, we're in a drought again. Uh , water use , uh, moves a lot of people here in California , uh, and water efficient use in agriculture is key. We've also seen the healthy soils initiative that has , uh , provided many benefits on farm as far as composting , uh , cover crop hedge rows , uh, all types of , of programs that I think growers , uh, were not as involved with and putting these programs and bringing the incentives to the grower has taken away the risk from the grower , uh, having to put all of his own money into a program to try something this is allowed to , uh, go out, give it a try, maybe on a small piece of ground, maybe a larger piece, but to give it a try without the risk and to see the benefits that they can acquire on farm. And , and what we've seen is , uh , we've had several demonstration projects , uh, working with some of the researchers as well. And as you know, on farm, there is nothing the neighbor , uh, you know, your neighbor, you don't see. So we we've seen a lot of acceptance in this, and I know my phone has run many times on some of the practices that we do near a major street or highway. Um, you know, we get a lot of calls wanting to know what are we doing and how are we doing it and what are the benefits? And I think you've seen that throughout California, where the , uh, these programs have become extremely successful and growers of all sizes, large, small participated in , uh , hopefully we get some additional funding Karen for this new, this new, this new budget to do, even to do even more really , uh , you know, the timing is critical. You know, we we've been through COVID and we saw a real resurgence in consumers wanting to know where their food came from and how it was produced as, as the secretary said , it , uh, it really, I think it put a nice spotlight on agriculture, not only in California, but really throughout the United States. So, you know, we feel we're , uh, we're, we're always changing. You know, we're always looking for something that's going to be more efficient, better, healthier, not only for our farming operation, but for our communities. So, and, and our workers. I mean, we , I live on farm , uh, so , uh, always , uh , respect everything that our workers do for us in agriculture.

Phil:

So Don, I want to build on something you said , um, you know, consumers for the first time, I think really woke up during the pandemic to understand the role of the farmers and of the ranchers. Uh , they learn more about it, but also supermarkets. Um, I I've talked to more supermarket from CEO down to buyer level who were woken up that said, if I want a consistent high quality source of supply, I better meet that farmer, that producer that rancher so that I don't have to go through all the gyrations and all the distributors and everything else, because frankly in the early stages of the pandemic, even here in California, there were some empty shelves and the retailers are saying never again. So they're forming relationships with folks like yourself , um, as, as well as Karen to make sure that that never happens again.

Don:

Yeah , we're, we're seeing a real resurgence in our, from our buyers wanting to know number one, if we can continue to produce the food that we're producing. Um, but they're also asking the questions on sustainability and not just the cursory check the box, but the deeper dive into knowing how their food is produced, if it's produced in a sustainable manner. And, and not only that, but they want us to be successful. So , uh, you know, it, it, it takes money to do some of the things we're doing. And in the past, it's always been a race to the bottom on pricing, and we're seeing a subtle change in that, to where our buyers, some of them are international buyers, multinational companies , um , all the way down to some of the smaller ones are really looking deeper into , uh, how we're producing our food, whether we're treating our workers fairly, whether , uh, we're sustainable , uh, really with not only water use, but , uh , uh , and worker health and safety. So we're seeing a deeper dive by the companies, which I welcome. We always have open doors here and are always willing to show people what we do. And, you know, we're, we're having a lot more to show them to be honest with you with some of the programs we've, we've put into place here. So it's, it's always welcoming.

Phil:

So Karen, based on what Don is , has said, are you seeing more companies of all kinds , um, really reaching out to you to understand more about California agriculture and seeing how they can help?

Karen:

Well, I love the last part, the best, how they can help even more, but there is a lot of interest. And partly because California, just by our sheer size, the buying power of our large population, the fact that this is a very progressive state and we've had in place climate policy, as well as a cap and trade program, that's allowed for investment to be made. People are looking to California, they do want to know how did you do it? And it's not just companies, it's other States and other nations quite too . And as you can see, I'm very lucky to work for, for people like Don and the other farmers and ranchers in the state that are so innovative and so open, and they are leaders, they are making change happen and they're making it cool, which has other benefits besides everything that he talked about to make ag like who wouldn't want to be an agriculture, you get to grow healthy, nutritious food, natural fibers, renewable energy habitat for species improved bio-diversity and pollinator health, and use the latest in technology. And you're with mother nature every day who wouldn't want to be an ag because you can help lead on the solutions to climate change. It's our natural working lands that give us that power. And so I would love to see even more companies come and say, how can we help? Because it's going to take partnership is going to take co-investment. Part of it is going to be from the market. Part of it's going to be better informing policy and investing in research. We all have an important role to play here. And I really am thrilled that we're going to be part of helping to further that kind of an agenda through us farmers and ranchers in action. It's the place to be . So

Phil:

I'm going to ask you both now to look into your crystal balls. Um, eh, exactly. And, you know , um , glitz look into the future, let's look into 2030. What do we need to do today to make sure that all the things that you both are talking about are going to become fully realized by 2030 and that we're not going to be sitting then saying, Oh, you know , I wish we would have done this back in 2021. Karen, why don't you start?

Karen:

So we need to have the right policy signals in place. That's going to be critically important. And it can't be just about mandates. It has to be around partnership incentives, investment in research and demonstration projects and technical assistance. And there's a role for not just government to be there, but the companies throughout the supply chain getting alignment around the vision of how do we have resilient restorative ag systems that help create vibrant rural economies and a profit margin for the next generation and the generation after that, to provide all of these goods and services that come far beyond just the property , grow , all those ecosystem services that takes alignment and it takes investment. And it takes starting with the vision that we all believe that I believe that has real power.

Phil:

So Don, that's a tough act to follow, but what's in your crystal ball.?

Don:

You're right. She has a lot of the matter of fact, all the answers. There's no question, but

Phil:

That's why that's the way she's secretary of agriculture,

Speaker 3:

Exactly California. But you know, I look at, at the grower level, it's not going to happen overnight, but it's going to start with small steps. And the incentives that the state has provided to growers helps it gets them started. And I think once you get started, you start looking for more ways, you can, you can improve your farming, operation, farming, and ranching operation. Um, I know we've done some here. Uh, you know, it, it , it took time to recharge program in place on farm. You know, I've talked about that for 30 years, but it took 10 years to get a put together and in place. So I know that when we get started, it's going to go, it'll go a little faster than the , what took us 10 years to get to. But I think we do need public private partnerships. We need to educate our buyers and we need to bring them on farm.

Don:

We need to show them what we're already doing and really where we're going and what we could do with a partnership with them, because we can't do, and we need, we do need some help from time to time to get these programs in place and to get growers to start to change. But I think in 10 years in 2030, I think it's going to look totally different here than it does today. I think the improvements that , uh , growers are going to be making , uh, will be embraced by consumers and by the companies that are purchasing from us. Uh, and I, I think they're going to see the value and I think their brands are the monsters that are going to be , uh , probably more successful. I think, I think consumers really want to see true action. They want to see , uh, I guess believability and, and that really, this isn't just a group Ching of a solution they want to , they want to know down to the grower, what they're doing. And I think our buyers are aware of that. And , uh , and I think they're heading in the right direction.

Phil:

Well, secretary Ross, President Cameron on a personal level, I want to thank you as a resident of California for doing a fabulous job. And every time I walk into every supermarket, every dollar store, these days, every, every kind of food store having the most robust, best, best tasting , uh, produced most nutritious produce and meats of any place in the nation. So thank you for that. Um, and on behalf of US RA , I want to thank you both for joining us today on Farm Food Facts.

Karen:

Thanks. It was fun.

Don:

Phil, really enjoyed it too. Thank you.

Phil:

And I want to thank both of you as well as a secretary Bartonfelder. And of course our fearless leader, Chip Bowling for joining us today on this important episode, both episodes of Farm Food Facts, see you next time for more news and views on the Decade of Ag and how we're working together to improve our air, soil, and water or the future for more on all things, food and agriculture, please visit [email protected] Also be sure to look out for us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers and on Twitter at USFRA until next time.