The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) is a coalition of sustainable agriculture organizations that seeks policy solutions to support California agriculture in adapting to and providing solutions for climate change. This grant from Western SARE funded a project called “Farming Strategies for Coping with Climate Change.” It provided training and practical tools on climate change adaptation for agricultural professionals from NRCS, Cooperative Extension and Resource Conservation Districts.
We intended to produce a series of workshops and farm tours, webinars, video seminars and written materials on the role of sustainable agriculture in providing climate benefits (both mitigation and adaptation). This project built upon the lessons learned in a project previously funded by SARE in 2009, incorporating participant feedback and integrating new research.
As a land-based system dependent on weather and the availability of natural resources, agriculture is uniquely vulnerable to the changes in climate predicted in the coming years and decades. Drier and hotter conditions, less available water, unpredictable weather events, and increased pest and disease pressures all combine to threaten the viability of the nation’s farming systems. All of these effects threaten to undermine California’s $42 billion agricultural industry unless actions are taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Many of the practices embraced by sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers offer the best strategies for reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint and assisting with climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as providing other environmental and health benefits. These include practices that minimize nitrogen fertilizer, increase biodiversity, conserve natural resources, produce renewable energy and build soil organic matter—all of which help reduce GHG emissions, sequester atmospheric CO2 and/or adapt to climate change.
Providing technical information to California’s agricultural professionals on the critical subject of climate change practices and policies is an effective way to support those agencies in their mission to deliver relevant and current information to producers.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Working with a planning committee comprised of representatives from NRCS, RCD and Extension, and informed by feedback from participants in past workshops, we identified three thematic subject areas for the climate resilience educational series:
- Increasing Biodiversity
- Water Stewardship
- Soil Building
We used three methods for engaging agricultural professionals on these topics. We provided three full day workshops that included a farm visit, held in three geographically and agronomically distinct areas of California. Each workshop included presentations covering the impacts of climate change on agriculture and solutions to climate-related issues relevant to the region, as well as a farm tours modeling some of the practices discussed. The workshops were planned and coordinated with local RCD and NRCS staff. We also offered three webinars—on each of the topics—to provide information in a less time-consuming and budget-intensive way than in-person workshops for those unable to attend a full day-long workshop. We also produced a fact sheet series written for both agricultural professionals and growers that focused on each of the three subject areas and provided a resource list.
Each of these communications methods highlighted and demonstrated the sustainable farming practices that provide climate adaptation benefits. They also included an update on with state and federal climate change policy developments and the implications for sustainable agriculture. Workshop presenters included academic researchers, agricultural professionals and producers.
Outreach and Publications
Workshops and webinars were promoted via our project partners at RCD, NRCS and Extension. Flyers for each workshop are attached (Attachment A).
A four-part series of fact sheets called “Farming for Success in the 21st Century” was produced and is available on the CalCAN website at: http://calclimateag.org/our-work/calcan-fact-sheets/ (included as Attachment B). The fact sheets were also made available to project partners and to all participants in the workshops and webinars. CalCAN will continue to make hard copies available at appropriate conferences and events such as the annual California Association of Resource Conservation Districts and at CalCAN’s 4th California Climate and Agriculture Summit in March 2015.
Finally, videos of the three “Climate Resilience Webinars” are available on the CalCAN website at: http://calclimateag.org/webinar-series-on-climate-resilience-2014/.
The expected outcome of this project was to provide training and practical tools for agricultural professionals at NRCS, RCD and Cooperative Extension to use in providing technical support to producers on the subject of climate change. The materials were developed based on current scientific information about the mitigation and adaptation benefits of the most promising sustainable “climate-friendly” agricultural practices.
Over the course of the project, the following activities were accomplished:
1. We convened three meetings of the Planning Committee to discuss the work plan for the project, decide on fact sheet topics and identify workshop locations.
2. We provided three workshops (promotional flyers included as Attachment A) as follows:
- Building Soil & Biodiversity for Climate Change Resilience on May 16, 2013 at Preston Vineyards in Healdsburg, Sonoma County
- Tools for Enhancing On-Farm Resilience to Climate Change on Nov. 21, 2013 at Wolff Vineyard in San Luis Obispo
- Tools for Enhancing On-Farm Drought Resilience on Oct. 9, 2014 in Red Bluff
A total of 90 professionals attended the workshops representing approximately 28 Extension, RCD or NRCS offices in about 18 counties.
3. We produced four fact sheets called “Farming for Success in the 21st Century,” three of which addressed the thematic topics and the fourth that provided additional resources on climate change and agriculture.
4. We organized three webinars, one on each of the three topics. Fifty to 75 people participated in each of the webinars. Videos are archived on our website at: http://calclimateag.org/webinar-series-on-climate-resilience-2014/.
Participants in the webinars and workshops were asked to complete anonymous surveys following the events to gauge the effectiveness of the educational tools. The questions that were asked and the general trends in response are provided below. A complete summary of feedback is available upon request.
1. Before the workshop/webinar, how would you rank your understanding of tools growers could use to increase their resilience to climate change?
79-95% reported a high or moderate understanding.
2. How useful was the workshop/webinar in improving your understanding of how growers can use soil building and biodiversity to enhance their ability to adapt to climate change?
84-100% reported the event was very or moderate useful.
3. Please rate the presentations in terms of their professional value.
The majority of participants ranked all of the presenters “Excellent” and most of the remainder considered them “Good.”
4. What aspects of the workshop/webinar were of greatest value to you in in terms of supporting growers in adapting to climate impacts?
A range of comments was made in response to this question, some focused on the content and structure of the events and some on the logistics and details. Several participants mentioned the value of hearing directly from grower presenters, seeing the practices in action on the farm tours and hearing a real grower talk about their challenges and solutions. Several others mentioned the importance of making time for participant interaction, questions and discussion, and networking and learning from each other about working with farmers and ranchers and the various projects in their areas. The linkage to practical implications, including economics, was mentioned repeatedly as a valuable focus of the workshops.
5. What recommendations do you have for future professional development workshops?
Several participants suggested that there be more growers and farm managers involved in future workshops, and concrete demonstrations of the tools. Some said they would like more time to discuss and develop methods to approach and talk to growers about climate adaptation issues and encourage on-farm adoption of these sustainable tools.
In general, many of the recommendations indicated strong interest in more deeply the topics with a range of crops, regions and issues as well as more detailed information on the tools themselves and their practical implementation. A few participants recommended offering similar workshops targeted to growers.
Finally, here is a comment offered by Luana Kiger, Special Assistant to the State Conservationist at NRCS: “The taped webinars are going over very well — I have sent links to those to new partners who really don’t know much about how we or RCDs work and what producers are already thinking and doing on being water smart and climate smart.”
Judging by the numbers of participants in all of the educational events and the quality of the feedback received, there seems to be considerable demand for professional development resources on climate adaptation and mitigation in agriculture.
A discussion topic emerged during the workshops and in the subsequent feedback regarding communications with growers about climate change. Participants identified a need for discussing and learning skills to address climate change in ways that make the topic accessible to farmers. For many growers, climate change is not a high priority issue and some don’t believe in it at all. Yet, the challenges they have on their farms are often linked to climate change impacts, and they are interested in sustainable farming tools to cope with those challenges. Conveying helpful information is a subject that many agriculture professionals in the workshops identified as important for ongoing professional development.
One participant remarked that having a workshop uniquely targeted to RCDs, Extension and NRCS was valuable as it is unusual to have the chance to interact with peers at other agencies. They also recommended that we should have used the opportunity to facilitate more sharing of stories, challenges and successes related to helping growers adapt to climate change, and that adding a round table session would have been extremely useful, and worthy of including in future professional development workshops.
The combination of farm-based workshops and webinars was particularly effective and complementary. The workshops allow for in-depth conversation and networking as well as tangible demonstrations of concepts on farms or ranches, but are more intensive to produce and limit participation because they require travel. The webinars, in contrast, can be made widely available both when they are presented live and later on line. One participant remarked, “Do more of these. They are a great way to learn a lot in a short amount of time without having to travel.” However, webinars are limited in terms of interaction with participants and do not provide the opportunity to tour farms or converse with growers.