In 2015, California launched a trailblazing Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP), the first program in the country that invests in farmland conservation for its climate benefits.
SALCP focuses on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the conversion of agricultural lands to urban, suburban and rural ranchette development. The program was created following a case study at UC Davis by Louise Jackson, Stephen Wheeler and others that found that an acre of urban land in Yolo County emitted 70 times more GHG emissions compared to an acre of irrigated cropland. The climate benefits of farmland, including its ability to capture and store atmospheric carbon, are lost when the land is converted to urban or other non-agricultural uses.
SALCP funds conservation easements on agricultural lands to permanently protect them and reduce sprawl development. The program also funds efforts by local governments to improve their land use planning and policy development to support long-term conservation of agricultural lands in their region.
SALCP is part of a larger Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program with money from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund derived from California’s cap-and-trade program. The program seeks to integrate funding for permanent agricultural easements with urban land use projects to maximize the gains in reducing GHGs from transportation and urban development.
California loses an average of 50,000 acres of farmland annually, making SALCP a significant program for farmland conservation in the state to help address this on-going significant loss of agricultural land. SALCP was funded in FY2014-15 with $5 million in cap-and-trade revenue, and due in part to the advocacy and leadership of CalCAN and a coalition of land trust, agriculture and conservation organizations, the funding for FY2015-16 was increased to $40 million.
CalCAN’s Farmland Conservation Strategies Timeline
August 2016 — The Strategic Growth Council (SGC) awarded $37.4 million in project funding for the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program.
December 2015 — SGC approves an increase in funding for SALC from $5 million to $40 million, the amount recommended by CalCAN and a large coalition of land trust, environmental and agriculture allies.
September 2015 — With Dr. Stephen Wheeler with Center for Regional Change at UC Davis, CalCAN produces Opportunities for Increased Greenhouse Gas Reductions from Farmland Conservation: A White Paper on the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program. The paper argues for improved implementation for SALC, including the use of enhanced GHG emission calculations to better demonstrate the GHG emissions savings associated with farmland conservation. The Air Resources Board and SGC adopt some of the paper’s recommendations, including lowering on the program’s match requirements and improving GHG calculations.
Summer and Fall 2015 — CalCAN coordinates outreach to the Strategic Growth Council members.
June 2015 — $45 million in grant proposals for SALC compete for $5 million funding. SGC approves $4.1 million in projects including five local government planning grants and seven conservation easement projects covering a little over 14,000 acres. CalCAN organizes a sign on letter from 32 partner organizations calling for increasing SALC funding to $40 million.
March 2015 — CalCAN releases a set of recommendations for Governor Brown’s second term in a policy paper titled Growing Solutions: Climate Change and Agriculture Recommendations to the California Governor. Includes several policy recommendations for farmland conservation such as a minimum 10% earmark of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities cap-and-trade funds for SALC, and renewed subvention payments for a revised Williamson Act.
February 2015 — Senator Wolk introduces SB 367, co-sponsored by CalCAN. Among other things, the bill calls for increasing the insufficient SALC allocation to 2% of total cap-and-trade investments, or about $40 million. The bill wins almost unanimous bipartisan support in the Senate and the Assembly, and a long list of supporters.
January 2015 — SGC approves the allocation of $5 million and issue a call for proposals to launch the new SALC Program.
2014 — Governor Brown signs the FY 2015-16 budget, which includes funding for farmland conservation as a climate change mitigation strategy, a program overseen by SGC. CalCAN coordinates with the land trust, sustainable agriculture and conservation communities to submit public comment on the new program guidelines.
2014 — Assemblymember Eggman introduces a CalCAN-sponsored bill (AB 1961) that would require local governments to establish and create public inventories of remaining agricultural lands and a plan to retain them. The bill moved out of the first two policy committees, but continued strong opposition from the building industry blocked it in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
2014 — CalCAN convenes strategy meetings and organizes comment letters and testimony with a large coalition of land trust, environmental and agriculture allies focused on influencing the design and budget for a cap-and-trade funded program to protect agricultural land. CalCAN successfully advocates for a new focus on agricultural solutions to climate change, including farmland conservation, in updates to the AB 32 Scoping Plan for meeting California’s GHG reduction goals.
2013 — Assemblymember Eggman introduces a CalCAN-sponsored bill (AB 823) that would adopt a minimum statewide standard of 2:1 to mitigate the loss of farmland when a project results in the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. The bill meets significant opposition from the development industry and stalls in the Assembly Agriculture Committee.
February 2013 — CalCAN releases a report titled Triple Harvest: Farmland Conservation for Climate Protection, Smart Growth and Food Security in California, including recommendations for state-level legislative and administrative policies to strengthen farmland conservation efforts.