CDFA Proposes New Healthy Soils Incentives for Prescribed Grazing and 13 Other Practices

SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced the list of practices it is proposing to add to the Healthy Soils Program at the meeting of the Science Advisory Panel on Thursday, March 15th. CDFA proposed fourteen new practices, including three proposals CalCAN submitted for prescribed grazing, conservation crop rotation, and nutrient management that reduces nitrogen application rate by at least 15%. The Air Resources Board (ARB) will now evaluate the practices and, if approved, determine a greenhouse gas (GHG) quantification methodology for each before making them eligible for incentives.

CDFA received proposals for more than 30 practices in December 2017, and is now proposing to make the following eligible in future iterations of the Healthy Soils Program (note: CPS stands for NRCS Conservation Practice Standard):

Cattle in a prescribed grazing paddock in the spring. Prescribed grazing is one of 14 practices CDFA has proposed adding to the Healthy Soils Program. Photo credit: UCANR
  1. Nutrient Management (CPS 590)
  2. 15% Reduction in Nitrogen Application Rate
  3. Replacing Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizer with Soil Amendments
  4. Nitrification Inhibitors
  5. Strip Cropping (CPS 585)
  6. Prescribed Grazing (CPS 528)
  7. Conservation Crop Rotation (CPS 328)
  8. Conservation Cover (CPS 327)
  9. Forage and Biomass Planting (CPS 512)
  10. Grassed Waterway (CPS 412)
  11. Alley Cropping (CPS 311)
  12. Multistory Cropping (CPS 379)
  13. Windbreak/Shelterbelt Renovation (CPS 650)
  14. Tree/Shrub Establishment (CPS 612)

COMET-Planner – the existing GHG quantification tool for the Healthy Soils Program – already includes all of the above practices except nitrification inhibitors, so ARB will most likely approve those thirteen practices, which CalCAN has long supported.

However, CalCAN opposes the addition of nitrification inhibitors to the program. As explained in our nutrient management proposal to CDFA, nitrification inhibitors do not improve soil health and do not yet have sufficient California-based evidence or agreement within the scientific literature to merit an incentive.

Fate of Some Key Practices Still Unknown

We had hoped CDFA would also propose to add the following  practices to the program:

  1. whole orchard recycling – the grinding and soil incorporation of whole trees during orchard removal (instead of burning them or sending them to a dwindling number of biomass co-generation plants)
  2. integrated cropland ruminant grazing
  3. one-time application of compost to grazed grasslands (as opposed to the current practice of three consecutive years)

CDFA staff stated they were still considering these three practices but would likely not be able to work with ARB to develop a quantification methodology in time for the next round of the Healthy Soils program. We will follow up with staff at ARB to find out more about their barriers to developing additional quantification methodology and support their effort in any way we can.

Apart from adding new practices, CalCAN has also requested that CDFA clarify or amend existing eligible practices based on feedback from farmers and ranchers, including:

  1. Removing the exclusion of on-farm compost in the compost application practices
  2. Allowing cover-crop mixes to be eligible as part of the cover crop practice
  3. Allowing grazing to be used to terminate cover crops as part of the cover crop practice

You can see CDFA staff’s full Healthy Soils update presentation (pages 44-66) in the Science Advisory Panel Meeting’s Binder.

CDFA staff’s presentations also shared new analysis of the first round of Healthy Soils incentives projects, results from a survey of incomplete Healthy Soils applications from the first round, and results from an ongoing audit of State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program (SWEEP) projects awarded in 2015. We will share more about this new data in upcoming blogposts, so stay tuned for more soon.

REMINDER: CDFA is accepting applications for the Healthy Soils Program on a first-come, first-serve basis until 5:00pm on April 13. A list of 16 technical assistance providers is available here. Please note that none of the proposed practices discussed above are eligible for this current round. The current list of 15 eligible practices is available on page 6 of the Request for Applications.

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