Scientists expect chronic climate changes over decades to dramatically affect the agricultural landscape. To prepare, key stakeholders globally are gathering to share findings and discuss options to help farmers in industrial and developing nations to build climate resilience, and thus food security for the future.

The Water Education Foundation and the University of California-Davis sponsored an international conference in San Francisco last summer that focused on sustainable groundwater practices in agriculture. The goal at Toward Sustainable Groundwater in Agriculture was to share information that scientists, policymakers, growers and others can use to help them confront issues related to groundwater, which constitutes much of the world’s irrigation supply. Presenters defined and highlighted the science, challenges and potential policy solutions in groundwater resources management and quality protection that will provide a sustainable future at regional, national and global scales.

The 5th annual California Climate and Agriculture Summit, organized and hosted by the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), will occur in February 2017 at the UC-Davis Conference Center. The summit will explore the science, policy and practice of climate change and agriculture in California by convening innovative produce growers; policymakers and agency staff; Cooperative Extension; Resource Conservation Districts; experts in climate change and agriculture; and nonprofit advocacy groups working on agricultural and environmental issues.

In March, Elsevier’s second Agriculture and Climate Change Conference in Spain will focus on the likely impact of climate change on crop production and explore approaches to maintain and increase crop productivity into the future. “Agriculture is heavily dependent upon climate,” said Andrew Paterson, head of the Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory at University of Georgia and a scientific advisor to the conference. “Even subtle differences in climate can determine the ability to consistently realize high productivity of a particular crop, as evident from the impact of year-to-year fluctuations on the productivity and quality of many crops.”

Additional Program Details

Videos and PowerPoint presentations of the Toward Sustainable Groundwater in Agriculture 2016 conference will be available this month.

Find out about CalCAN’s 2017 Summit on their website. More information on the 2nd Agriculture and Climate Change Conference in Sitges, Spain can also be found on their website. Abstracts are due Oct. 17. Can’t get to Spain? Follow the conference as it happens on Twitter with hashtag #AGCC17.

Benefits of convening

Toward Sustainable Groundwater in Agriculture connected farmers and farm consultants with groundwater hydrologists and scientists, water managers, policy/decision-makers and regulatory agency personnel from around the world.

Renata Brillinger, executive director of CalCAN, said their summit is the only event in California that focuses exclusively on the latest developments in climate and agriculture science, policy and practice. “California agriculture is vulnerable to the predicted impacts of climate change, including water scarcity, historically extreme and unpredictable weather events, decreased chill hours and new pest and disease challenges. Farmers and ranchers can enhance their resilience to these changes, and can also take advantage of an increasing number of state and federal funding sources to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon by altering management practices.”

Molly Brown, assistant professor at University of Maryland and one of the scientific advisors for the Elsevier conference, said the event will help participants understand how the science connects to the implementation of adaptation strategies. “The largest interest is to engage with the very diverse and multidisciplinary research community to understand where the gaps are,” she said. “Even if your crop isn’t represented in the meeting, understanding how agronomists and climate scientists are working together to find solutions for other crops will be very useful.”

Lessons from the conferences

Toward Sustainable Groundwater in Agriculture attendees told conference organizer Thomas Harter how important and delightful it was to them to network with people from other professions focusing on the same issues. “One California farm rep said the conference inspired him to come up with more effective programs to help farmers comply with new regulations,” Harter said.

The conference illuminated that groundwater overuse and pollution from excessive nitrogen applications are coming under increasing public and regulatory scrutiny in industrialized nations, Harter said. He anticipates that growers will see more interdisciplinary programs designed to implement better management practices that protect groundwater. Nitrate is a universally shared concern in agricultural regions throughout the world.

Dr. Cameron Holley, of University of New South Wales, Australia, led a session called “Water Reform Lessons from Australia.” Those lessons included:

  • There are no quick fixes: Australia’s water reform journey has taken many decades to mature and there is still more implementation work to be done.
  • Sustained and effective engagement of all stakeholders is critical to ensure long-term water policy stability and security.
  • There is no single tool to solve water problems: a smart combination of complementary policy instruments that account for context is vital. Australia combined cap and trade water markets with regulation and place-based collaborative planning.

Learning opportunities at the California Climate and Agriculture Summit will include a day of plenary, workshop and poster presentations, plus a day where attendees can choose either a farm tour or a visit to the state capitol that will include meetings with state legislators and agency staff to discuss climate solutions agriculture can offer and current policy issues.

At the time of this writing, the program was not determined, but farmers and others were invited to submit proposals on:

  • Publicly funded and or on-farm research
  • Grower-led initiatives and projects
  • Technical assistance resources
  • Model programs and policies

Brillinger said the conference will provide growers with practical tools for implementing “climate smart” practices. It will also provide updates on incentives and resources for growers, as well as the latest science regarding on-farm climate mitigation and adaptation.

At presstime, agendas were not set for the Agriculture and Climate Change conference in Spain. However, Paul West, co-director and lead scientist at University of Minnesota’s Global Landscapes Initiative will deliver a keynote address about big opportunities and challenges for sustainable food production within a changing climate. “Climate change is connected to many parts of the food system that need to be considered in concert: yield trends, water availability, water quality, habitat loss, diet and waste,” he said. “Each of these factors influences the impacts of climate change on the food system.”

Agriculture is one of the biggest sectors contributing to total greenhouse gas emissions, currently about 20 percent to 25 percent of total global emissions. Because of that, West said, “Agriculture needs to play a critical role in national strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”