Healthy Soils Program Guidelines Updated and New SWEEP Project Verification Methodology Announced

The Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel met in Sacramento on Thursday, March 16th to review updates to two of California’s climate-smart agriculture programs: the Healthy Soils Program and the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP).

CalCAN Policy Director Jeanne Merrill provides public comment on the updated Healthy Soils program guidelines during the March 16th EFA SAP meeting. Photo: Brian Shobe

Healthy Soils Program 

Dr. Geetika Joshi, Senior Environmental Scientist Supervisor at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), presented updates on the program’s proposed funding allocation, timeline, eligible practices for incentives, quantification methodology, and on-farm demonstration project guidelines.

These updates were made in response to feedback from the most recent EFA SAP meeting (January 19th) and 28 public comment emails and letters they had received in the intervening months. The comment emails and letters will be posted online soon.

Funding

The program’s $7.5 million FY 16-17 budget will be divided into three categories:

  1. $3.75 million (60%) for direct farmer incentives
  2. $3 million (40%) for on-farm demonstration projects
  3. $750,000 (10%) for administrative costs

Proposed Program Timeline

  • June – Application Solicitation Released for both Incentives and Demonstration Projects
  • July – Applications Due
  • September – Awards Announced
  • October – Project Implementation to Begin

Eligible Practices

No additions were made to the program’s list of eligible practices. CDFA staff indicated they did not have sufficient time to review the scientific literature on additional practices, but stated that they viewed the current list of eligible practices as a starting point and would be proposing a mechanism for adding practices in subsequent grant cycles. They will share their proposal for a mechanism at the next EFA SAP meeting on May 18th. We look forward to providing input on that mechanism. CDFA did remove a practice (Improved Nutrient Management), however, citing other programs that would address it.

Quantification Method

After many months of debate about the best method to quantify the greenhouse gas reduction impacts of proposed Healthy Soils practices, it was announced that the Air Resources Board (ARB) and CDFA staff had settled on COMET-Planner, a tool created by Colorado State University (CSU) in partnership with the USDA-NRCS. CalCAN supports this decision given the decade’s worth of research and development that has gone into the tool and the recent efforts by Colorado State University, USDA-NRCS, USDA-ARS, and University of California researchers to tailor the tool to California’s diverse agricultural landscape.

CalCAN also applauds CDFA and ARB for the significant work they did to create and include a compost application standard and quantification method for the Healthy Soils program, which NRCS and COMET-Planner had not yet done.

On-farm Demonstration Project Guidelines

In addition to incentives, the Healthy Soils Program will include funding for demonstration projects. The demonstration projects are intended to support outreach, education, and data collection of on-farm practices that improve soil carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The maximum project award will be $200,000, which will allow for approximately 15 projects to receive funding. Eligible entities will include farmers in partnership with nonprofits, University of California Cooperative Extension and experiment stations, and Resource Conservation Districts. Eligible entities will be allowed to submit applications for as many projects as they would like, but will only be eligible to receive awards for up to two projects.

All projects must demonstrate at least one of the “soil management” incentivized practices in order to be eligible.
Projects would be funded to demonstrate the practice for the first two years, but would need to continue the practice into a third year as a “cost-share.”

Given the objectives of the program, the projects will be required to invite at least 200 farmers per year to the demonstration site as part of its outreach component, and will be required to monitor soil organic matter.

We agreed with EFA SAP members’ feedback on these guidelines, which included support for the outreach component of the projects, a strong recommendation that the applications undergo a competitive review process, a suggestion to standardize the soil organic matter monitoring methodology, and a random sample evaluation of the demonstration project’s impact on the behavior of producers who visit the site.

CalCAN and our partners will submit follow up comments to CDFA on the program guidelines.

 

State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP)

Scott Weeks, Environmental Scientist at CDFA, updated EFA SAP members about the SWEEP programs’ current funding round and application period, including the 23 technical assistance workshops CDFA funded to help farmers apply to the program. CalCAN has long advocated for such technical assistance, given the complexity of the application, and is eager to see the outcomes of those workshops such as those pictured below from UCCE Fresno.

Scott also stated that the latest round of SWEEP funding would once again be significantly oversubscribed, with 300 applications submitted and only $7.5 million available. CDFA expects to announce awards in May.

New Project Quantification and Verification Method

To ensure the integrity of the program, CDFA is required to audit 10% of SWEEP projects. To do this, they select a random sample of SWEEP projects each year to quantify and verify their actual water and energy savings. This year, CDFA required a random sample of 2015 projects to turn in their water and energy records. This year, CDFA has contracted with a 3rd party company – PowWow Energy – to conduct real-time project monitoring, quantification, and verification for 2016 projects.

PowWow Energy CEO Olivier Jerphangnon was present to discuss their quantification method. Instead of collecting water and energy records, PowWow will be collecting high-frequency data from smart meters attached to project recipients’ water pumps, which will measure energy and water usage. This data, in combination with localized precipitation records, crop evapotranspiration rates, and aerial NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) imagery, will allow them to monitor changes from a producer’s baseline irrigation and energy use. One advantage of this method is that PowWow will be able to help protect farmers from irrigation leaks and pump-related mechanical issues by sending them text alerts whenever their data indicates there may be a problem with their irrigation system.

The data collected will be aggregated to protect individual privacy.

You can find the CalCAN analysis of SWEEP Rounds 1-4 here: http://calclimateag.org/sweep/

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