CalCAN’s Technical Assistance Bill Passes Senate Ag Committee

SACRAMENTO – The California Senate Agriculture Committee passed the CalCAN-sponsored Assembly Bill 2377 (Irwin) yesterday with a bipartisan, unanimous 4-0 vote. The bill aims to improve participation in and the impact of Climate Smart Agriculture programs by providing technical assistance for farmers and ranchers seeking to do projects under the programs.

Asm. Irwin, José Robles, and CalCAN staff and partners after the Senate Ag Committee vote. From left to right: Poojan Thakrar, Brian Shobe, Asm. Jacqui Irwin, José Robles, Jeanne Merrill, Noah Lakritz, Kara Heckert, Lauren Lum. Behind the Camera: Amy Winzer.

José Robles, an almond grower from Modesto, joined CalCAN staff and bill author Assemblymember Irwin (D – Thousand Oaks) to testify in support of the bill.

José started farming in 2005 and faced significant challenges early on, including poor soil with low water-retention and a nematode infestation that got so bad he had to pull out part of his orchard. José attended a workshop on soil health and orchard floor management put on by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). There, José met NCAT staff, who encouraged him to try a few new practices. José agreed to take the risk of changing soil management practices and has continued to work with NCAT staff over the past six years to improve his soil health, which he says eliminated the nematodes, increased his soil’s water-holding capacity, and made a visible improvement in the health of his almond trees.

José is innovative. But as a small grower and small business owner, he said he doesn’t have the time or cash on hand to make all of the soil health and irrigation improvements he would like to. When Rex Dufour of NCAT reached out to him last year to inform him about the Healthy Soils Program, José was very interested. With Rex’s help, José successfully applied and became one of the first 100 farmers to receive a Healthy Soils award (see our profile of him and his award).

“Like many farmers, I run a second business to make ends meet, so I didn’t have time to do the application. Thankfully, NCAT helped me apply to the Healthy Soils Program. Thanks to that technical assistance, I received a Healthy Soils grant to install a hedgerow and apply compost and cover crops for the next 3 years. These practices will improve the health of my soil and my trees, save water, attract beneficial insects, and ultimately increase my profits.”

José is not alone. In the interviews we have conducted with over 30 recipients of Climate Smart Agriculture grants and dozens of technical assistance providers, we heard story after story of producers who are interested in applying to and implementing innovative practices through these programs. But many of these producers are unable to do so without adequate technical assistance to help with project development, application assistance and project implementation.

The good news: we can make that technical assistance more widely available. That is why CalCAN is sponsoring AB 2377 and the bill is supported by 22 agricultural and conservation organizations.

What Does AB 2377 Do?

AB 2377 requires that 15 percent, or no more than $ 5 million, of the annual budgets for three Climate Smart Agriculture Programs — the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP), and Healthy Soils Program—be used to establish a Technical Assistance Fund. Resource Conservation Districts, Cooperative Extension and nonprofits can apply to the Fund. They can receive up to $125,000 annually for up to three years to support farmer applicants to the programs with outreach, project design, application assistance, and project implementation.

Importantly, AB 2377 prioritizes technical assistance for small and moderately-scaled farms and ranches and requires at least 25 percent of the technical assistance funds be provided to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Next Steps

AB 2377 still has three main steps to go before becoming law: first it will need to pass the Senate Appropriations Committee, then the Senate Floor, and then get signed by the Governor. We will post key updates on our blog, including opportunities to support the bill.  Every phone call to state representatives on these issues makes a difference.

Have your own story of technical assistance positively impacting your farm/ranch? We would love to hear it! Email amy@calclimateag.org

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