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Farmers Save Money, Water by Adopting Climate-Smart Ag Practices

A Hmong small-scale farmer in Merced County has saved about 14.4 acre-inches of water annually and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 12.406 MTCO2e per year (equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions produced from burning 1,396 gallons of gasoline) after upgrading her farm. Rosie Lee – who sells Asian greens, green beans, corn, strawberries and other produce at her farm stand and to Asian markets – is one of hundreds of growers benefiting from California Department of Food and Agriculture incentives and funds with the assistance of Climate Smart Agriculture community education specialists.

“She is one grower who would not have access to those funds without my bringing my computer out to the field,” said Caddie Bergren, a Climate Smart Agriculture community education specialist who has been working with growers in Merced County since the program’s launch.

To make it easier for farmers to adopt new practices, CDFA and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources partnered to create the Climate Smart Agriculture program.

Drip irrigation has saved Lee about 14.4 acre-inches of water annually.

“Since 2019, UC ANR’s Climate Smart Agriculture Team has provided in-depth technical assistance to more than 1,300 farmers and ranchers in 24 counties,” said Hope Zabronsky, academic coordinator for UC ANR’s Climate Smart Agriculture team. “Through their strong relationships with diverse farming communities, they support the implementation of soil health, water efficiency, and manure management practices that optimize climate benefits for all growers and Californians.”

The program’s community educators work with farmers and ranchers in 24 California counties to get CDFA-funded grants and implement Climate Smart Agriculture projects. These efforts, which emphasize outreach to underserved farmers and ranchers, have resulted in a total of $36.5 million invested from the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program or SWEEP, the Healthy Soils Program, and the Alternative Manure Management Program.

“Agriculture is an important part of the climate solution,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This funding enables CDFA and UC ANR to partner with farmers and ranchers to scale up climate-smart agricultural practices. This is essential as we contend with our hotter, drier future.”

Lee, the Hmong grower, had been growing 18 acres of vegetables by flood irrigating with groundwater. To save water and reduce pumping costs, she asked Bergren to help her apply for SWEEP funds to convert to drip irrigation and install solar panels. Bergren brought her laptop to the field to help Lee pull together the necessary information for the application. After Lee received funds for the project, Bergren assisted her with the technical logistics of installing the irrigation and solar equipment.

“I called vendors and we were able to complete the project on time,” Bergren said.

Through the Climate Smart Agriculture program, Lee, shown holding a soil moisture sensor, received help to apply for grants and complete the energy and water-saving project.

CDFA and UC ANR have published an impact report highlighting the results of the multi-year partnership focused on increasing adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices to reduce water and energy use.

The investments have funded more than 420 projects, so far. The projects are expected to save an estimated 8.3 billion gallons of water during their lifetime, enough to supply over 75,000 typical homes in California with water for a year. Additionally, there are projected reductions of more than 355,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, as much as would be achieved by removing 79,110 gas-powered vehicles from roads.

The report highlights the importance of providing tailored outreach, education and technical assistance to small-scale, non-English speaking, and otherwise underserved farmers and ranchers. — By Pam Kan-Rice and Josh Staab

To find the full details of the report, please visit https://ucanr.edu/climatesmartag2023.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu and support our work at donate.ucanr.edu.

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