Farmers see hope in Newsom’s latest climate order

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Farm groups reacted with skepticism but no great consternation to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest climate-change executive order — his second in as many weeks — calling for concerted action to promote biodiversity, enhance resiliency and otherwise conserve California agricultural and other lands.

The president of the Kern County Farm Bureau said local growers had already been bracing for the retirement of local farmland in the face of state groundwater regulations. He said that trend could lead to more ag easements, or deed restrictions limiting how formerly productive land is used.

But other than setting priorities to defend California against the effects of climate change, Newsom’s order appears to be little more than a call for collaboration among various stakeholders, President John C. Moore III said, “and I think that’s a good thing.”

“Ag is ready and willing to work with our communities and various groups and we just hope we can do so with net benefit to the valley and agriculture industry,” said Moore, a diversified grower in the Arvin area.

The industry’s response has been much less critical than the reception local leaders gave Newsom’s Sept. 23 executive order accelerating California’s phase-out of internal combustion vehicles. Their concern was that the transition will hurt local oil companies, one of Kern’s biggest industries next to farming.

The California Farm Bureau Federation’s president took a view similar to Moore’s, saying in an emailed statement the governor’s order could “finally provide California farmers, ranchers and loggers a prominent seat at the table when it comes to managing our state’s working lands.”

While President Jamie Johansson expressed skepticism about Newsom’s “increased use of the executive order as a lawmaking tool,” he said in a news release the group is hopeful the effort would lead to better protections for the state’s working lands.

“We must remember the need to produce affordable food for people and maintain a regulatory environment that allows new businesses to start and existing businesses to grow,” he stated.

“Actions stemming from this executive order should not intensify the existing regulatory environment that ignores the economic diversity of agriculture,” Johansson continued, “and should not favor preservation over the use of renewable resources for public benefit.”

Wednesday’s executive order names the specific goal of conserving 30 percent of the state’s land and coastal waters by 2030. While biodiversity was a big emphasis, the action also prioritized climate resilience and supporting “economic sustainability” and food security through collaborations involving farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders.

The order also called for reinvigorating populations of bees and other pollinator insects, enhancing soil health and accelerating natural removal of atmospheric carbon through soil management. Some read that latter part as promoting carbon sequestration through increased on-site burial of ag trimmings.

The New York-based Environmental Defense Fund applauded Newsom’s order, saying it highlights the need to increase the pace and scale of environmental restoration and land management efforts.

“We are pleased to see the governor recognizes the critical role that working lands can play in reducing emissions, supporting regional biodiversity and building a resilient economy and food system, which serves populations well beyond California’s borders,” EDF Associate Vice President Eric Holst said in a news release.

More critical was a statement by state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield. She called Newsom’s action an “overly broad” order that will increase the cost of land and disrupt California’s housing goals.

She called the order too vague to be deemed helpful to agriculture and too empowering to state bureaucrats who might enact sweeping changes on farming in the state. She said it could lead to state government telling farmers what to grow to maximize carbon sequestration.

“Farmers across the state already practice crop rotation and monitor soil nutrient and pH levels without the government forcing their hand,” she stated.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf

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