Chaos on California Ranches as Drought Takes a Toll on Cattle and Dairy Farmers, Highlighting Need for AB 1289 the Smart Climate Agriculture Program

Smart Climate Agriculture Program
Smart Climate Agriculture Program

Today, a Sacramento Bee article, titled “‘Liquidation of cows.’ How the drought creates chaos on California ranches, dairy farms,” highlights the effects of California’s extreme drought on the state’s cattle and dairy industries. The article details how many ranchers are being forced to “liquidate” animals on their farms due to record low water levels. With less water, farm pastures are drying up, driving up the cost to feed the animals.

The problems facing animal agriculture due to the climate crisis have accelerated the search for creative solutions, such as AB 1289 (Kalra) the Smart Climate Agriculture Program, which is currently sitting in the Assembly Agriculture Committee awaiting a hearing in 2022. The bill would create a grant program to help animal farmers transition to plant-based farming, with priority given to those transitioning to less water intensive crops.

The article states that “California’s $50 billion-a-year farm economy is turning nightmarish. And nobody’s losing more sleep than the state’s dairy farmers and beef-cattle producers, who are scrambling for feed to keep their animals alive.” Groups representing the dairy and cattle industries, such as the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Grain and Feed Association, the Milk Producers Council, among others, are the same groups who staunchly opposed AB 1289. Their opposition attributed to the bill being stalled until next year, delaying relief to the same farmers these groups purport to represent (see opposition letter below).

“It’s pretty much statewide,” said Tony Toso, a Mariposa County beef rancher and president of the California Cattlemen’s Association. “My goodness, there’s pastures out there that just look like moonscape.”

“The realities of climate change are undeniable, and they have been for decades, but between deniers and others profiting off the industries causing it, the same groups have now cut off their nose to spite their face in opposing AB 1289,” said Judie Mancuso, founder and president of Social Compassion in Legislation, who is cosponsoring AB 1289. “Why oppose putting grant money in the hands of exactly those farmers who need help right now. It could transition them to plant-based farming whether for the land or because the plant-based market is booming.”

There are a few successful, private organizations helping ranchers transition to plant-based farming, such as the Rancher Advocacy Program, which recently had its annual summit focused on helping farmers transition to plant-based farming.

“As a former cattle rancher who has transitioned out of animal agriculture, I founded the Rancher Advocacy Program to inspire other ranchers and farmers out of this unsustainable industry,” stated Renee King-Sonnen, founder of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. “The clock is ticking and it’s going to get even worse. We just completed our third Rancher Advocacy Program where ranchers in transition teamed up with experts to develop systems to thrive on their land without using animals. There are many alternatives from vegetables, to hemp, from solar to wind. We need our government to help facilitate this transition.”

With some farmers in San Joaquin Valley fearing water rationing from the state’s Water Control Resource Board, it is crucial to recognize that ~80-90% of California’s water footprint is associated with agriculture – with meat and dairy being the single largest contributor of water consumption. Livestock feed is the largest water consuming crop in California, yet year after year the majority of our elected officials refuse to do anything about it. The time is now to address the horrible situation the state is in because of the stranglehold Big Ag has on Republicans and moderate Democrats in our state legislature. The fact is meat and dairy are causing mayhem on people’s health and the environment. We have no time left to keep denying and obstructing progress.

Some animal farmers may want to transition to get into the booming plant-based market, some because climate change is leaving them no choice, and some because they no longer want to be in the business of polluting the land or sending animals to slaughter. Regardless of the reason, AB 1289 would help those that want the help transitioning out of animal agriculture, and it is short sighted and reckless not to support it.

We hope that the California Cattleman’s Association and other groups who have initially opposed AB 1289 will reconsider their position when the bill comes up early next year.

We urge those who are not plant-based to consider the effects of meat and dairy consumption on animals, the land and their own health. We advocate for all animals, but all animals depend on a healthy planet – going plant-based is the best thing we can all do to make sure the planet is livable for all of us.

smart climate agriculture program

Please, consider making a donation to support our vital work, our opposition is well funded, and we need to go toe to toe. It is very costly to have a professional team of lobbyists working for the animals in Sacramento!

Thank you for your help,
Judie Mancuso, founder/CEO/president
Social Compassion in Legislation

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