Last week, CalCAN and 16 other sustainable agriculture organizations and farms submitted joint comments on the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program draft Request for Grant Applications (RGA).
The Healthy Soils Program offers grants to farmers and ranchers who adopt soil-building practices that sequester carbon in the soil and woody plant material to help combat climate change. All of the program’s eligible practices (listed below) also result in other environmental and economic benefits, such as reduced soil erosion, increased wildlife habitat, and increased water infiltration and retention.
CalCAN applauds CDFA staff for their extensive and groundbreaking work over the past two years to create this first-in-the-nation Healthy Soils Program. We support and have advocated for many of the proposed elements of the program, including:
- Using Colorado State University’s user-friendly COMET-Planner and CDFA/ARB’s own Compost Planner as the programs’ greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction quantification tools
- Evaluating projects’ GHG impact on a per-acre basis, which will level the playing field for farms of all sizes
- Incentivizing the adoption of multiple practices at a time, which will take advantage of many of the practices’ synergies
- Accepting NRCS EQIP awards as matching funds, which will extend the impact of the program and encourage farmers to take advantage of multiple conservation cost-share programs
The joint comment letter that was submitted also identifies some areas of concern that we would like to see addressed to ensure a transformative program that appeals to all California farmers and ranchers. Our recommendations—which the comment letter covers in significant detail—include the following:
- Simplify the application format to minimize barriers for farmers, especially smaller family farmers, beginning farmers, and farmers for whom English is not their first language
- Ensure the program appeals to all producers, including ranchers and organic farmers, by dropping the requirement that applicants must adopt at least one of six “soil management” practices and allow applicants to choose freely from the list of 16 eligible practices under the program.
- Encourage successful implementation by clarifying the timeline for practices that start with fall 2018 plantings and by clarifying the project verification and reporting requirements
- Prioritize investments in demonstration projects that will promote the widespread adoption of Healthy Soils practices throughout the state by focusing on projects that will reach, inspire, and educate farmers about the practical considerations and economic and environmental benefits of Healthy Soils practices.
You can read the full comment letter here.
We were pleased to hear in the Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel meeting on July 20th that CDFA staff have already reviewed and synthesized feedback from the 29 comment letters they received on the draft RGA and are now actively working to respond to those comments in the final RGA.
The final RGA is expected to be released by the end of July. We will broadcast that announcement on our blog, website, and social media as soon as we learn about it.
Also, we are preparing a fact sheet to facilitate with outreach to farmers and ranchers—please email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy. The more demand there is for the program in its first year, the more likely we will see continued and hopefully increased funding in future years, so please be in touch if you can help us spread the word!