With the new budget providing additional funding to some of California’s climate-smart ag programs, the Food and Ag board heard from experts Tuesday about how to ensure the money strengthens and expands the impacts of funded projects.

One major effort that could pay dividends over the long term would be to incorporate data from what will soon become thousands of projects into the state’s cost of production studies. Jeff Dlott, the COO of LandScan, a soil ag tech start-up, and a member of the CDFA Science Advisory Panel, said California’s cost of production studies are among the best in the country. They already incorporate different farming practices so “why not develop a whole series of climate smart related cost of production studies?” The data would come from the projects on the ground and the studies would be available to everyone. He pointed out that ag tech researchers often turn to those studies and their value would increase if information such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration could be included. He acknowledged such data has been hard to come by.

Dlott also put in a plug for the potential for soil ag tech to “change the climate market” and the way that carbon is calculated, which is something that has gained a lot of attention in recent months, in part because accurate quantification remains elusive.

Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agricultural and Natural Resources, celebrated many of the existing collaborations among universities, government and the private sector but said the additional projects on the horizon call for even more leveraging of partnerships.

“We have really got to find more and better collaborations of our government, our university and our industry sectors.” She said federal and state government partners are important but not to overlook county and local government potential. Industry partners often engage, but she pointed out that California’s ag diversity means it’s not always at the top of the investment list for a major company like Syngenta or John Deere, which can impact thousands of acres in the Midwest with one decision.

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But Humiston said she often tells people in Silicon Valley that while “we know we need better technology, mechanization, robots, drones, etc.” those things will only work when paired with plants that have been adopted for them. “To get that done, it takes a lot of money,” she said.

During public comment, a farmer in his 30s discussed the challenge of getting familiar with the grant application process and echoed another of Dlott’s points when he said farmers are busy being farmers not grant writers. Offering them practical support to access the funding is important. This grower also said more demonstration or model projects will help farmers see what their neighbors are doing, which, he said, can be a big motivator for trying something new or different.

And another public commenter requested that CDFA consider how to use some of its organic transition funding to help farmers during the years when they are no longer using conventional growing systems (pesticides, etc.) but are not yet eligible for organic certification and the premium pricing it brings.

Board member Joy Sterling expressed confidence that expanding broadband to more communities would help narrow the digital divide that can be part of the challenge for farmers trying to join the programs. And she applauded the climate smart programs for their potential impact on ag’s future.

“Saving the planet through agriculture could be exactly the perfect lure for getting young people engaged in agriculture,” she said.

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