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Prop 23: A Threat to California Agriculture

Submitted by Food Democracy Now on October 10, 2010 - 3:19am

By Matthew Green

There is no shortage of reasons for opposing Proposition 23, the November ballot measure that would effectively kill California’s landmark climate change legislation. That it’s been funded almost entirely by oil companies to the tune of over $9 million – 70% from out of state — should in itself sound an alarm. Prop 23 would not only derail the state’s clean air and energy policies, it would also slow the growth of our burgeoning green tech economy, and eliminate the opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of green jobs.

But if that doesn’t provide compelling enough grounds for rejection, consider the issue from a farming and food supply perspective. Even gradual changes in climate can detrimentally affect agriculture. And a threat to our state’s farms and ranches is, of course, a threat to our food supply. From altered growing seasons and reduced winter chill hours, to escalating energy costs and even greater water scarcity, global warming poses a very real risk. The evidence is so strong, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu proclaimed last year in the LA Times: “I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen. We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.”

To provide a bit of prospective: California’s agricultural sector is the country’s largest and most diverse, producing roughly half of all U.S. fruits and vegetables, and providing upwards of 400 thousand jobs. A lack of preparation and innovation could result in major crop failures. And that would have ripple effects throughout the country and around the world.

Farmers and ranchers need to quickly adapt to changing environmental factors in order to meet these challenges head on. If given the right resources and incentives, they can be an active part of the solution. Doing so, however, depends on smart policies in Sacramento.

California’s landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. If implemented effectively, this legislation could provide the state’s farmers and ranchers with the tools and impetus necessary to implement climate-friendly agricultural practices such as improved water and energy efficiency, carbon capture in the soil, and on-farm energy generation.

This isn’t a pipe dream. Some farmers are already demonstrating the potential.

Russ Lester, an organic walnut grower and processor in the Central Valley, installed a biogas generator at his facility. It gasifies walnut shells to produce combustible gas, electricity and heat, creating $70,000 worth of energy every year. That’s in addition to the solar panels he installed to generate additional on-peak electricity. Lester’s system is a model that other growers could replicate, but not without real investment.

Prop 23 would essentially extinguish this opportunity. It would block AB 32 implementation until California’s unemployment drops to 5.5 percent for one consecutive year – something that has happened all of three times in thirty years. In other words, Prop 23 is not just a “suspension” of the law, as it’s proponents claim; for all intents and purposes, it is a complete repeal.

An increasing number of growers throughout California understand what’s at stake. Many have come to recognize the crucial link between farming, climate change, and the clear advantages offered by the green economy.

In his recent op-ed in the Napa Valley Register: Jon-Mark Chappellet, owner of Chappellet Vineyards in Napa, put it this way:

“Prop 23 would turn back the clock and leave California vulnerable to an ever-increasing scarcity of natural resources. This is a direct threat to California’s farms and farmers, to our progress towards clean energy and clean air, and to our ability to continue producing the best food and wine in the world.

Learn more and register your opposition to Prop 23 at:

To find out how California’s climate policies can benefit farmers, visit the California Climate and Agriculture Network

Matthew Green is the Outreach and Media Coordinator, California Climate and Agriculture Network

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