Improved soil promises to help farmers use less water and reduce carbon in the atmosphere, reported Ezra David Romero on Valley Edition, a one-hour weekly program that airs on KVPR-FM.
The five-minute story, which begins at the 30:30 mark, focuses on CDFA's new Healthy Soils Initiative. The program is expected to allocate $7.5 million for farmer incentives to use practices that will improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These are practices that are already in place on some innovative valley farmers, including two that are active in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation center.
Jesse Sanchez, manager at Sano Farms in Firebaugh, said 15 years ago, tractors were rolling across the 4,000-acre tomato farm all the time. Now, the farm features cover crops in the winter, reduced soil tillage, irrigation with super-efficient buried drip tape and lower fertilizer needs. The result is a one-third drop in water use and a 75 percent reduction in diesel to fuel tractors, Romero said.
Many of the farm's tractors have been sold. "We don't want to see them no more," Sanchez said.
Retired Madera County farmer Tom Willey discussed the critical importance of soil care he learned as a long-time organic vegetable grower.
"It's the survival of our species," Willey said. "The soil is the thin skin of the earth that we all exist on. Our lives are bound up in the health and productivity of the soil."
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Mitchell noted the challenges that farmers face in making soil care changes. “A real part of the challenge for California farms is the high-value nature of the production systems, the crops themselves, and some difficult challenges in terms of the diversity of the crops," he said.
A UC Santa Barbara study concluded that planting a home garden can cut carbon emissions to the atmosphere. However, if gardening isn't done right, it could actually contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, reported Nathanael Johnson on Grist.org.
The article looked at five factors that impacted greenhouse gas emissions in home gardens:
- Reduction of lawn area due to replacement by the garden
- Reduction of vegetables purchased from the grocery store
- Reduction in the amount of greywater sent to treatment facilities due to diversion to irrigate the garden
- Reduction in amount of household organic waste exported to treatment facilities due to home composting
- Organic household waste is composted for use in the garden
The abstract of the research article, written by David Cleveland, sustainable food systems professor in the Department of Geography, said:
"We found that (gardens) could reduce emissions by over 2 kg CO2e kg−1 vegetable, but that results were sensitive to the range of values for the key variables of yield and alternative methods for processing household organic waste."
In his Grist story, Johnson provided key points from the research that can help ensure the home garden is climate smart:
- The main reduction from gardening comes from diverting food waste from the landfill, where it rots and emits methane and nitrous oxide. Food waste must be properly composted to prevent the emissions.
- Planting a garden then forgetting about it ends up emitting more greenhouse gases than if you never started.
The article suggests that Californians contact their local UC Master Gardener program for assistance in properly managing a home vegetable garden. Johnson spoke to Kerrie Reid, the UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor in San Joaquin County.
"Reid doesn't abandon her plants midway through summer, and she doesn't over-plant and then end up throwing out dozens of thigh-thick zucchinis," Johnson wrote. "Sure, when the cucumbers peak, there are more than she and her husband can eat, she confesses, but they share with their neighbors. The neighbors also come over to harvest herbs from the sidewalk."
The article said readers can find their own version of Reid by looking up a local UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program.
Pottinger asked Ted Grantham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, whether the state's fish are adapted to periodic droughts.
Drought is one stressor, he said, but there are additional factors imperiling fish.
"California's native fish have been in steady decline for at least 50 years — in part due to dams, habitat degradation, and the introduction of non-native species," Grantham said. "Native fishes have developed several strategies to cope, but key to their long-term survival is their ability to recover from drought during wet years."
Grantham said there are at least three strategies that would help better manage the state's native fish.
- Better define the amount of water needed to sustain healthy fish populations.
- Create an accurate accounting system for tracking water availability and use.
- Recognize that not all streams are created equal. Some streams support more biological diversity.
The ecosystems science researcher said he is optimistic about the future.
"Although the drought has severely affected California's freshwater ecosystems, it also has raised awareness about the need to improve water management and better prepare for climate change," he said.
For more on threats to California native fish, read Identifying gaps in protecting California's native fish in the UC California Institute for Water Resources' blog The Confluence.
Climate change affects the severity of the fire season and the amount and type of vegetation on the land, which are major variables in predicting wildfires. However, humans contribute another set of factors that influence wildfires, including where structures are built, and the frequency and location of ignitions from a variety of sources — everything from cigarettes on the highway, to electrical poles that get blown down in Santa Ana winds. As a result of the near-saturation of the landscape, humans are currently responsible for igniting more than 90 percent of the wildfires in California.
“More and more researchers are arguing that anthropogenic influences are really important [to understanding wildfires],” Moritz said. “By leaving them out we're missing a critical piece of the solution.”
While the U.S. Forest Service spends more than $2.5 billion each year fighting fires, other public agencies are exacerbating the wildfire problem. Public funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, are going into construction in fire-prone districts.
"It's already a huge problem from a public expenditure perspective for the whole country,” Moritz said. “We need to take a magnifying glass to that. Like, ‘Wait a minute, is this OK?' Do we want instead to redirect those funds to concentrate on lower-hazard parts of the landscape?”
He said human systems and landscapes they live on are linked, and the interactions go both ways. Failing to recognize that leads to "an overly simplified view of what the solutions might be. Our perception of the problem and perception of what the solution is [becomes] very limited."
"It's splitting hairs, as scientists often will, to note that we may not know conclusively whether climate change has caused this particular drought and these specific wildfires," wrote Max Moritz, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. "As a wildfire scientist, I find it troubling that this nuance became front-page news because it implies more uncertainty about climate change that there really is among experts."
Other writers' comments about the misleading article were also published. Alex Hall of the UCLA Center for Climate Change Solutions said "an analysis of the probability that the current fire season in California would play out as it has, if climate change were not in the picture has not been done." Jonathan Parfrey of Climate Resolve said "The Times really blew it in this piece."
In the conclusion of his letter, Moritz wrote: "In fact, there is relatively strong agreement among fire scientists about links between climate change and wildfire, even if quantitative attribution poses challenges. To raise awareness about climate change and to reduce its long-term impacts, we need our leaders to speak out."