Policy Enabling Environment for Climate Smart Agriculture:
A Case Study of California
To remain a global agricultural leader, California agriculture will have to continue adapting to changing climate conditions, resource availability and competitive global markets, says a paper published last month in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.
The paper was written by Josette Lewis and Jessica Rudnick. Lewis is currently with the Almond Board of California, but was formerly with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) where she worked on behalf of NACSAA and the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. Rudnick is with Department of Environmental Science and Policy, at the University of California, Davis.
The researchers note that climate smart agriculture (CSA) itself offers a globally recognizable framework to demonstrate how agriculture and climate intersect and suggest how agriculture can contribute to mitigation, adaptation and productivity goals going forward.
They say California plays an important role in these global CSA discussions, as it is a major producer of hundreds of specialty crops, exemplifies the dry climate conditions that typify numerous agricultural regions around the world, and houses major research and technology innovation sectors that support the development of many innovative CSA solutions.
They say the political economy of California agriculture also illustrates global trends that will impact CSA policy.
“While the state ranks as an agricultural powerhouse, agriculture is a declining percent of the state economy and a declining percent of the labor force,” the authors note. “As the state’s economy and population grow and diversify outside of agriculture, public policy goals have also changed and political attention has been directed toward non-farm priorities, including environmental health and social and environmental justice.”
They cite World Bank data indicating similar trends toward declining shares of agriculture in economies and labor forces are occurring globally, as countries transition from developing to middle- and high-income economies, and mechanization becomes more widespread in agricultural production systems.
The researchers say that specific means by which various agricultural players will contribute to meeting CSA goals both within and outside of California will likely change over time.
“Programs that promote specific farming practices or resource governance approaches should be designed to be adaptable and allow for policy learning,” the authors write.
Their case study on the development of California’s CSA initiatives aims “to provide a perspective on how multiple actors have coordinated in one system to develop integrative mitigation and adaptation initiatives that are appropriate for multiple cropping systems in various biophysical conditions across the state.”
They anticipate that as both social and environmental conditions change in California, the CSA initiatives will need to adapt to maintain relevancy. They also cite instances where there have been overlapping or conflicting goals that have had to be reconciled, or have led to unintended and undesirable consequences.
“The triple-wins narrative frequently posited with CSA programs is not always possible to achieve,” they warn. “Indeed, as our case study shows, there are in fact very few examples of policies or initiatives that achieve all three CSA pillars through a single effort. Rather, we believe it is more likely that these three simultaneous goals will likely be met via disparate efforts, increasing the likelihood that tradeoff decisions may need to be faced.”
As CSA initiatives develop in other locations, the authors emphasize the importance of taking an integrative systems approach to understanding how various components of climate and agriculture intersect and considering carefully how to reconcile these conflicting interests.
“An important direction moving forward will be to consider how CSA initiatives integrate with aspects of the cultural and social institutions that operate in different contexts and shape what type of agriculture is conducted, who participates in agriculture, and what agricultural outputs are produced,” the researcher say. “This integration will be crucial for CSA-oriented initiatives to pose solutions that recognize the needs, wants and capacities of the communities dependent on the very agricultural systems that are under consideration.”
Ethanol Industry Welcomes Lifting
of E15 Summertime Ban; Condemns ‘Abuse’ of SREs
The EPA issued its final rule Friday that allowing retailers to sell gasoline containing 15-percent ethanol (E15) year-round, lifting a longtime summertime ban on E15 blend that the agencies own scientists found was unjustified.
In its final rule, the EPA said it was extending a 1-psi (pounds per square inch) Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver to E15 during the summer months.
The EPA said the RVP waiver will take effect immediately as “when the agency grants or recognizes an exemption or relieves a restriction, affected parties do not need a reasonable time to adjust because the effect is not adverse.”
In addition to lifting the summertime ban on E15, the EPA said it was finalizing reforms to the RINs market. These reforms include requiring public disclosure when RIN holdings exceed specified thresholds and the collection of additional data to improve transparency and EPA oversight.
The RIN reforms adopted were not as drastic as originally proposed, prompting an outcry earlier this year from the ethanol industry concerned a drawn-out battle over reforms could hold up the E15 waiver.
Response from the ethanol industry was positive.
The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) said the EPA rule fulfills President Trump’s promise to eliminate the summertime prohibition on E15, a fuel that offers lower cost, reduced emissions, and higher octane.
In the nine years since EPA first approved the use of E15, RFA and other ethanol-related groups have worked to remove what they have said is a costly and unnecessary regulatory barrier that prevented retailers in most of the country from selling the fuel during the busy summer driving season.
RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper thanked the president for “championing this critical regulatory reform that will enhance competition, bolster the rural economy, and provide greater consumer access to cleaner, more affordable fuel option.”
Cooper said E15 already has a proven track record for saving drivers money at the pump and reducing emissions.
“Today’s action will ensure that more Americans are able to enjoy those benefits,” he said. “Year-round E15 will also provide a badly needed long-term demand boost for our industry and America’s farmers, who face a number of daunting challenges today.”
American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings said the new rule “means U.S. retailers finally have the opportunity to offer E15 to their customers year round as the peak summer driving season kicks off this weekend.
He also said he and others in the industry were grateful the EPA considered their comments “in opposition to sweeping and unnecessary reforms to the way RIN credits are handled under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Had EPA gone forward with the so-called RIN reforms, it would have dulled the upside benefit of E15 year-round.”
But Cooper, Jennings and other industry leaders said the economic benefits that would come from expanded E15 sales will be undermined if EPA continues what the industry says is the “indiscriminate” small refinery hardship waivers.
“Against the intent of Congress, EPA has been granting RFS exemptions to refiners without requiring them to demonstrate their claimed ‘hardship’ is somehow connected to the RFS,” the RFA chief said. “The demand destruction caused by EPA’s waivers must end.”
He called on the president to build on the momentum generated by lifting the E15 ban and reign in “EPA’s abuse of the small refiner exemption program.”
Jennings said the EPA’s “ongoing mismanagement of the RFS through blanket small refinery exemptions (SREs) needs to stop. The net effect of E15 year-round with 2.61 billion gallons worth of SREs that aren’t reallocated (to other refineries) means we’re still in the hole when it comes to ethanol demand through the RFS.”
He noted that EPA is currently sitting on nearly 40 requests for refinery waivers from the 2018 compliance year, adding that ACE and others “discourage EPA from erasing any benefit of [the E15] rule by granting more waivers at a time when rural America can least afford it.”
Three weeks ago, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals denied a request from the Advanced Biofuels Association (ABFA) to block the EPA from issuing the hardship waivers, ruling the ABFA had “not satisfied the stringent requirements for an injunction pending court review.”
EPA maintained its position that the agency has followed the statute, as well as congressional and judicial direction in granting the waivers.
A separate lawsuit challenging the rapid increase in waivers under former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt remains pending.
On Capitol Hill, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced legislation that would require small refineries to petition for hardship exemptions by June 1 each year, ensuring the EPA properly accounts for exempted gallons in the annual renewable volume obligations the agency sets each November.
EPA has granted 54 waivers to refineries for the 2016 and 2017 RFS compliance years. While those exemptions have taken 2.61 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons out of the marketplace, the agency is not accounting for these waivers, despite RFS requirements that the EPA make adjustments when determining future biofuels targets to account for waivers – a provision aimed at ensuring the overall biofuel targets are not reduced by the waivers.
More Research Warns of Climate Change Consequences
Research led by scientists at the University of Minnesota say the world’s top 10 crops will see their production vary from region to region, some faring worse than others, due to climate change.
Meanwhile, research from the University of Indiana indicates warming temperatures affect native and non-native flowering plants differently, which could change the look of local landscapes over time.
Published in PLOS ONE, the University of Minnesota-led study, conducted with researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Copenhagen, looks at barley, cassava, corn, oil palm, rapeseed, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugarcane and wheat, which supply a combined 83 percent of all calories produced on cropland.
While yields have long been projected to decrease in future climate conditions, the newest research shows climate change has already affected production of these key energy sources – and some regions and countries are faring far worse than others.
Using weather and reported crop data to evaluate the potential impact of observed climate change, the researchers found that:
- observed climate change causes a significant yield variation in the world’s top 10 crops, ranging from a decrease of 13.4 percent for oil palm to an increase of 3.5 percent for soybean, and resulting in an average reduction of approximately one percent (-3.5 X 10e13 kcal/year) of consumable food calories from these top 10 crops;
- impacts of climate change on global food production are mostly negative in Europe, Southern Africa, and Australia, generally positive in Latin America, and mixed in Asia and Northern and Central America;
- half of all food-insecure countries are experiencing decreases in crop production — and so are some affluent industrialized countries in Western Europe;
- contrastingly, recent climate change has increased the yields of certain crops in some areas of the upper Midwest United States.
“There are winners and losers, and some countries that are already food insecure fare worse,” says lead author Deepak Ray of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, whose high-resolution global crop statistics databases have also been used to help to identify how global crop production changes over time.
The findings indicate which geographical areas and crops are most at risk, making them relevant to those working to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger and limiting the effects of climate change. Insights like these lead to new questions and crucial next steps, the researchers say.
The new study from Indiana says that looking at blooming flowers as spring advances across the Midwest suggests that non-native plants might outlast native plants in the region due to climate change. The findings indicate changing climate conditions could boost the growth of weeds.
The study – led by researchers at Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute, part of IU’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative, and Michigan State University – has revealed that warming temperatures affect native and non-native flowering plants differently, which could change the look of local landscapes over time.
The study was published May 28 in the journal Ecology Letters.
“The timing of a plant’s life cycle is crucial for species survival,” said study co-author Jen Lau, an associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology and a member of the Environmental Resilience Institute. “When a plant flowers determines whether it will be pollinated by bees or other insects and how much time it will have to produce seeds. Our data makes me worry that we will have a very weedy world in our future.”
The researchers’ findings suggest non-native plant species may be better at shifting their flowering time compared to native plant species. These differences are thought to influence a species’ success both now and in future warmer environments.
To test this hypothesis, Lau and her students simulated global warming in fields planted with 45 native and non-native species. Some areas were warmed by infrared heaters, while other areas were not. Lau’s lab surveyed all plants to determine when they first flowered and how long they flowered.
When grown in warmed plots simulating the climate change expected in the Midwest by the end of the century, the researchers found that non-native species flowered more than 11 days earlier on average. In contrast, native species did not shift flowering times at all when warmed.
DOE Announces $79 Million for
Bioenergy Research and Development
The DOE will award more than $79 million in funding for bioenergy research and development, including biofuels, bioproducts and biopower.
The funding supports DOE’s goal of providing consumers and businesses with a range of domestic energy options that are affordable, reliable, and secure.
“We are focused on expanding America’s energy supply, growing the economy, and enhancing energy security, which will all be furthered by the significant advancements made in bioenergy technologies,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes. “The funding opportunities…will help ensure our nation’s competitive advantage in the emerging bioeconomy and allow us to continue to offer U.S. consumers and businesses more homegrown energy choices.”
The FOA topics will advance DOE’s Bioenergy Technology Office’s (BETO) objectives to reduce the price of drop-in biofuels, lower the cost of biopower, and enable high-value products from biomass or waste resources. Topics areas for this funding opportunity include the following:
- Cultivation Intensification Processes for Algae: Develop technologies for outdoor algae systems that increase the harvest yield, reliability and quality of algae.
- Biomass Component Variability and Feedstock Conversion Interface: Research to lower the cost and improve the reliability of biomass handling and preprocessing.
- Efficient Wood Heaters: Develop technologies to reduce emissions and increase efficiency of wood heaters for residential heating.
- Systems Research of Hydrocarbon Biofuel Technologies: Integrate new technologies and processes in experimental prototype systems to improve and verify real-world performance and lower the cost of drop-in biofuels.
- Optimization of Biomass-Derived Jet Fuel Blends: Identify and develop cost-competitive drop-in renewable jet fuel with improved energy density and lower particulate matter emissions.
- Renewable Energy from Urban and Suburban Wastes: Support academic research and educational programs that focus on strategies to produce bioenergy and bioproducts from urban and suburban waste feedstocks.
- Advanced Bioprocessing and Agile BioFoundry: Reduce the time and cost of developing biological processes for biomanufacturing fuels and products through the use of synthetic biology, low capital intensity methods, and continuous production systems.
- Plastics in the Circular Carbon Economy: Develop biobased plastics with improved performance and recyclability and lower the cost and energy-intensity of recycling existing plastics through enhanced degradation.
- Rethinking Anaerobic Digestion: Develop anaerobic processes or alternative strategies to enhance carbon conversion efficiency and lower costs of smaller scale wet waste systems.
- Reducing Water, Energy, and Emissions in Bioenergy: Identify biofuels or bioproducts technologies with the greatest potential for reducing water consumption, energy consumption, and/or emissions relative to existing conventional fuels or products.
This FOA also supports the Water Security Grand Challenge, a White House initiated, DOE-led framework to advance transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for safe, secure and affordable water. In particular, this funding will support research and development focused on anaerobic digestion, a technology that can help achieve the Grand Challenge’s goal to double resource recovery from municipal wastewater.
For more information, read the full FOA on the EERE Exchange website.