Environmental Farming Panel Expands, Considers Healthy Soils and Water-Energy Programs

Click to view our most recent group recommendations on the Healthy Soils Program.
Click to view our most recent group recommendations on the Healthy Soils Program.

Exciting things are afoot at the panel tasked with advising on California’s climate-smart agriculture programs.

The Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel, or ‘EFA SAP’, is playing an increasingly important role as the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) spends millions of dollars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector through voluntary actions.

On Friday, November 18th, the EFA SAP held a meeting in Modesto to discuss CDFA’s new $7.5 million Healthy Soils Initiative, the continuation of its State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), and a joint water use efficiency project with the Department of Water Resources (DWR).

This was the first EFA SAP meeting since the passage of Senate Bill 859 earlier this year, which established the Healthy Soils Program and expanded the panel’s membership from five to nine.

SB 859 built on two previous bills authored by Senator Lois Wolk – SB 367 (2015) and SB 1350 (2016) – which CalCAN and CAFF played a key role in shaping. [Read more about SB 859  here.]

New Panel Members

CDFA has moved expeditiously to appoint new members to the panel, already bringing in several climate and agriculture champions to fill the seats created by SB 859.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross has appointed Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm and Vicky Dawley of the Resource Conservation District of Tehama County to serve on the panel.

Judith is a member of CalCAN’s Farmer Advisory Council and a pioneering organic farmer in Yolo County with deep expertise in biologically-integrated and climate-friendly farming systems.

Vicky has also contributed greatly to CalCAN’s mission over the years, publicly making the case for climate-smart agriculture incentives as well as outreach and technical assistance. She and her husband Frank are owners of Big Bluff Ranch, where they raise their grassfed animals based in holistic management.

Additionally, Resources Secretary John Laird has appointed Julie Alvis, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Natural Resources Agency, to the panel. Julie played an integral role in the development of the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program and was a panelist at CalCAN’s 2014 Climate & Agriculture Summit.

Together, we hope these esteemed new panel members will help to produce even more successful outcomes for farmers and the climate as CDFA continues to expand its work in this area.

Healthy Soils Update

Dr. Geetika Joshi, Senior Environmental Scientist at CDFA, provided an update on the Healthy Soils Program now that it has officially been funded.

The Air Resources Board (ARB), which oversees all of the state’s cap-and-trade-funded programs, is currently developing a tool (‘Quantification Methodology’) that will be used to estimate the GHG reductions from implementing healthy soils practices. The list of eligible healthy soils practices is still under consideration, as are several aspects of the program’s design.

To read recommendations on the Healthy Soils Program from CalCAN and a group of other stakeholders, click here, here, and here.

We were disappointed to learn that the roll out of the Healthy Soils Program will be delayed until the second half of 2017. CDFA expects to take public comment and develop the grant solicitation guidelines over the next six months or so.

If you would like to weigh in on the program, Healthy Soils is sure to be a major topic of discussion at the coming EFA SAP meetings – the next of which is scheduled for January 19, 2017 in Sacramento. Mark your calendars.

SWEEP Program Update

CDFA recently announced that it will be awarding nearly $22 million for 167 agricultural operations to reduce their water use and greenhouse gas emissions through the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP). These grants come atop the 360 on-farm projects that SWEEP has already funded since the program’s creation in 2014. 

You can read our previous blogs about this important climate-smart agriculture program here, here, and here.

CalCAN has previously shared some recommendations for the program, in order to increase SWEEP’s accessibility to California’s diverse grower population and to ensure the wisest multi-benefit use of limited public dollars.

In particular, we recommended that CDFA lower its cap on the amount of money an individual project can receive. In the most recent rounds, the cap had risen to $200,000 – a move which our data analysis suggests may be associated with fewer total operations benefitting from the program overall.

At the EFA SAP meeting in Modesto, CDFA proposed to lower the cap to $100,000, noting that the agency now has the staff and resources to handle the higher number of successful grants that this move is likely to bring.

The Panel members approved this change on a voice vote, and CalCAN delivered public comment supporting this important improvement to the program.

Also at the EFA SAP meeting, ARB staff announced some changes to the usability of its Quantification Methodology (QM) tool. A required component of the SWEEP application, the QM has led to some confusion amongst growers seeking assistance from the program. A draft QM is open to public comment until December 9th. Click here for details.

The next round of SWEEP grants will be open to applications beginning in January 2017. See CDFA’s website for a full timeline: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/sweep/

Staying Up-To-Date

Expect more exciting developments from the EFA SAP as we enter into the new year. We will be updating you here, but you can also track the Panel and the programs it advises upon by using the links below:

 

EFA SAP Webpage: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/efasap/

Healthy Soils Webpage: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/healthysoils/

SWEEP Webpage: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/sweep/

 

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