National Young Farmers Coalition was invited to present during the Western Governors Association forum on “Drought Impacts and Solutions in the Agricultural Sector”. Many academics and water resource managers from California were in attendance along with several ranchers and farmers. Jerry Brown, Governor of California and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval made an appearance for opening remarks to begin the two day event.
With the deepest California drought on record and annual Colorado River flows showing average yearly declines for more than two decades, the importance of this discussion could not be understated. Agriculture uses 80% of the Colorado River water and when there is not enough, farmers feel the loss the most. Western farms produce food that feeds the entire nation and making efficient use of our water resource is critical to the food supply and economy.
National Young Farmers Coalition was invited to participate, share insights, and conclusions from the “Water Resiliency Project”. A research project oriented towards learning what farm and ranch operations are doing to mitigate drought stress through on farm innovations in management. With many of the participants focused on research, data, and modeling, the perspective of experience from farmers and ranchers shared by National Young Farmers Coalition was unique.
Two primary topics discussed included the need and opportunity for more collaboration amongst diverse stakeholders: ranchers, politicians, urban water consumers, and environmentalists who all need to work towards common solutions. Also important is technology to model drought and climate change forecasts. John Laird, Secretary, of the California Natural Resources Agency moderated the event and opened the discussion by comparing the drought in the west to the 15 year drought in Australia. Within this context asking: ‘What should we be doing now in anticipation of this drought lasting for another 10 years?’
National Young Farmers Coalition shared the perspective and the need for long term, proactive solutions to drought, informed by producers who are taking on the challenges on their own farms and ranches. The challenges of drought include topsoil loss, low yields, fallowed land, and diminished storage, which are symptoms of a failing ecosystem. The innovative producers National Young Farmers Coalition has worked with have found that Healthy soil is the foundation of agriculture and the water cycle; its job is to absorb and buffer both carbon and water. The most time and cost effective solution to these challenges is to use new land management techniques that restore the soils ability to cycle and store carbon and water.
Operations that have invested in their soil are now able to better survive dry conditions with water use reductions of 2 to 7 times: same soil, crop, slope, and irrigation method. As their soil health improves; inputs of diesel, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and labor go down while crop quality, marketable yields, and net farm profits go up.
The ecological services provided by healthy soil go far beyond mitigating drought. Healthy soil also increases crop quality, reduces nitrogen run-off, prevents top soil loss, and can minimize salts in our water ways. There are efforts amongst different stakeholder groups that are focused on solving these issues and National Young Farmers Coalition was able to share proactive solutions that bring together a diversity of stakeholders, which include farmers and ranchers as partners in the effort to manage the challenges of drought.