Why California's Proposition 23 Is Bad News for Farmers

Prop 23 would hinder efforts of farmers who want their businesses to be more resilient, sustainable and energy independent.

Farming is a business, and just like any other business sector in California, it is poised to benefit from the state's leadership on setting clean energy policies that spur innovation and investment. Are there challenges on the road to a renewable energy future? Certainly. But Proposition 23 is the wrong response. Prop 23 would indefinitely freeze California's landmark clean energy and clean air policies, keeping us stuck in the past, dependent on increasingly unreliable and expensive fossil fuels.  

California's clean energy and clean air policies have driven investments in renewable energy technology into the state at a dramatic rate -- $10 billion in just the last four years, according to the National Venture Capital Association. These investments come from venture capitalists who recognize lucrative opportunities for growth and innovation in the state's commitment to a clean energy economy. Farmers, like all business people, can be the recipients of these investment dollars.  

At Dixon Ridge Farm in Solano County, an organic walnut farm and processing facility, we have installed a biogas generator that gasifies walnut shells to produce combustible gas, electricity and heat. This system produces over $70,000 worth of energy every year. All the energy is used on the farm and the shells, which used to be a waste byproduct, are not shipped anywhere, reducing traffic, road and transmission line impacts. The emissions are low and the byproduct of this machine, biochar, is an excellent soil amendment. This technology is transferable to other biomass fuels and is available now. The California Biomass Collaborative has estimated that these fuels can provide about 20% of California's energy needs.  

There are technological, regulatory and financial barriers to the widespread generation of on-farm renewable energy. Growers need technical expertise to accelerate adoption, and financial incentives and investments. The California Climate and Agriculture Network advocates for policies that support farmers and ranchers in becoming more resilient, sustainable and energy independent. This is the kind of innovation that California agriculture has always excelled at. And it's the kind of progress that Prop 23 would hinder.  

California farmers and ranchers have survived the many challenges they face by innovating, adapting, and keeping lots of options on the table. For agriculture, it's more important than ever to keep moving forward and not stay stuck in the past. Californians should focus our resources on moving into the clean, green economy of the future and constructively addressing the barriers to doing so - not on trying to turn back the clock.  

Prop 23 is funded almost entirely by Texas oil companies. Its backers have no stake in what is best for Californians or for our agricultural economy. They care only about continuing to squeeze windfall profits from our reliance on oil.  

In November, we can choose to keep moving forward with innovation and new opportunities, or we can go backward and remain stuck in the past. It is in the interests of California growers to vote No on Proposition 23.

Russ Lester is the owner of Dixon Ridge Farms, grower of organic walnuts and largest processor of organic walnuts in the U.S. Renata Brillinger is the Executive Director of California Climate and Agriculture Network, a coalition of farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates that advances policy solutions at the nexus of climate and agriculture.