CalCAN Takes SWEEP Recommendations to Environmental Farming Panel

Click to view the report.
Click to view CalCAN’s report.

On May 18th, CalCAN presented our analysis of the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) to California’s Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel (EFA SAP) in Sacramento.

The EFA SAP is a seven-member body that reviews and provides input on CDFA’s efforts to promote environmentally-beneficial farming practices, particularly the Department’s new climate change programs.

As part of a meeting agenda that also included discussion of CDFA’s proposal for the new Healthy Soils Initiative, CalCAN shared for the panel our key findings and recommendations on CDFA’s efforts to promote on-farm activities that simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower water use.

Our presentation [pdf] led to a robust and lengthy discussion about the program amongst panel members and CDFA representatives. CalCAN staff stood by to answer questions about our analysis and to offer our perspectives.

Improving Program Access

In particular, we highlighted ways in which the Department could lower barriers to program accessibility. In reviewing the program data and talking with farmer applicants, we found that the SWEEP application process is challenging for many and may lower the ability of some less-resourced farms to receive funding.

To remedy this, we suggested CDFA provide technical assistance to growers, to ensure high-quality projects and lower the burden on applicants. We also suggested shifting GHG and water savings calculations to reviewers rather than applicants (reviewers currently re-do all the applicant calculations); offer a simplified application for smaller projects, to lower the time and resources needed to apply; and provide clear and transparent scoring criteria for the applicants.

Soil Management and Other Activity Types

Click to view CalCAN's presentation.
Click to view CalCAN’s presentation.

We also offered our finding that only 1% of SWEEP projects so far have included beneficial soil management practices in their project descriptions. There is ample evidence that healthy soils management practices – including cover cropping, conservation tillage, and compost applications – can significantly improve soil water-holding capacity while sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. CalCAN believes that SWEEP, as the state’s first on- farm climate-oriented program, should firmly recognize how interconnected soil and water management are on the farm, and incentivize practices that find synergies between these two areas.

We encouraged the Panel to take a deeper look at the possibilities for doing this, and also suggested a future EFA SAP discussion on what types of practices SWEEP should or should not be incentivizing more generally.

Preparing for the Next Round

Panel members spoke constructively about how these recommendations might be addressed, and some acknowledged that our recommendations have been used before in similar farmer-oriented programs.

Governor Brown has proposed $20 million in funding for SWEEP in this year’s cap-and-trade budget. Meanwhile, CDFA will announce another round of available SWEEP funding in the coming weeks. We will continue to advocate for this important program, while working to ensure that growers across the diversity of California agriculture can use this resource to the maximum benefits.

View our slides by clicking here [pdf].

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