CalCAN recently reviewed data from the fourth round of on-farm grants made through the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), one of California’s climate-smart agriculture programs. Our SWEEP Progress Report, released in May, examined how SWEEP is working for farmers and the climate, and offered recommendations for program improvement. Our Round 4 Update is previewed below.
SWEEP, funded by cap-and-trade auction proceeds, equips agricultural producers to reduce their carbon footprint, save water and energy resources, and increase their resilience to a changing climate. While this two-year-old program has steadily evolved, our analysis still shows room for improvement.
SWEEP continues to generate high levels of interest. Applicants requested $43.15 million dollars to implement their projects, a higher total than any of the previous funding rounds. With its $16 million budget, CDFA—the administering agency—awarded 128 projects that are estimated to save 22,267 acre-feet of water per year (approximately 7.3 billion gallons/year) and an estimated 5,635 tonnes CO2e per year (the equivalent of taking 1,190 passenger vehicles off the road each year).
Unfortunately, the projects chosen for Round 4 funding continued a trend toward selecting fewer, larger projects, despite the large number of applicants (see graph). This may be in part attributable to Round 4’s maximum award size of $200,000, which CDFA increased from the previous two rounds’ limit of $150,000.
A modest nod to the soil-water connection
Round 4 is the first time SWEEP has given “additional consideration” to applicants whose projects reflect certain criteria, such as the use of soil management practices that help conserve water. This category includes cover cropping, mulching, compost amendments, and resource-conserving crop rotations—all practices that CalCAN has argued SWEEP should incentivize for their known water and greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits. Just over half of Round 4 awardees indicated that they currently use or will begin to integrate these important management practices into their operations. But how these “additional considerations” are weighted in application scoring is not clear, and SWEEP still cannot directly fund growers to implement these practices.
While “additional considerations” add value to the program, more can be done to bridge the compatible goals of the CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program and SWEEP.
Most Southern California growers are missing out
To-date, SWEEP has reached over half of the counties in California (30 out of 58), yet many areas in drought-ridden Southern California have yet to benefit from the program (see table below).
Representatives of Rancho California Water District in Temecula have noted to CalCAN that all but a few growers in their district do not qualify for SWEEP. This is because many farmers and ranchers in southern California have their water delivered to them: SWEEP’s requirement to demonstrate on-farm GHG reductions effectively excludes operations for which all pumping occurs off-farm. We urge CDFA to look into this issue and possibly reevaluate eligibility criteria to facilitate more equitable participation from this key agricultural region.
Data from Round 4 continue to demonstrate that higher-funded projects do not necessarily produce greater water and GHG emission savings per SWEEP dollar spent. Although one might assume that ‘larger’ projects would yield greater ‘bang for the buck’, four rounds of program data suggest higher average per-grant-dollar water and GHG benefits in the lower funding tiers rather than the highest ones (see graph).
…But smaller farms under-funded
Round 4 was the first time CDFA collected farm size data (in acres), giving us an opportunity to examine the breadth of agriculture operations benefitting from SWEEP. Farms ranging from 200-499 acres received the most awards in Round 4, with 1- to 49-acre farms receiving the second highest percentage of awards, but the smallest percent share of funding. While fewer than one-fifth of the farms in California are 200 acres or larger, over two-thirds of Round 4 SWEEP dollars went to farms of this size.
Resilient farms and ranches need robust, well-implemented programs to unleash the many tools in their climate toolkit. SWEEP is a valuable program that needs continual improvement as it seeks to reach all regions and demographics of the state, while pursuing long-term solutions to climate change and its impacts.
As the Legislative session winds down over the next week, it is still unclear whether SWEEP will be funded again in the coming fiscal year. We will keep you updated over the coming days – keep an eye on our Facebook, Twitter, and blog pages.