California Falls Short on Climate Smart Farming Investments

Posted on Thursday, June 13th, 2019 by Jeanne Merrill

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, the California legislature approved the state’s budget, including $1.4 billion in climate change investments. The results were mixed for the state’s suite of Climate Smart Agriculture programs. Under the programs, farmers and ranchers receive financial and technical assistance to adopt management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sinks and provide multiple benefits to farms and the environment.

The California Climate and Agriculture Network, a coalition of the state’s leading sustainable agriculture organizations, advocates for the investment in multiple-benefit Climate Smart Agriculture. The silver lining in the budget was the boost to the Healthy Soils Program, which went from $15 million to $28 million in FY 2019-20.

The Healthy Soils Program funds farmers to adopt new soil management practices like cover crops, compost, mulch, conservation tillage and more to increase carbon sinks and lower greenhouse gas emissions overall. However, while the boost in the program’s funding comes as welcome news, an annual investment of $50 million is needed to reach the state’s goal of a million acres under Healthy Soils management by 2030.

Other Climate Smart Agriculture programs did not fare as well. The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) was zeroed out, despite being the most popular of the Climate Smart Agriculture Programs and the only state incentive for on-farm water conservation. Since its inception, the program has funded over 600 farm-based projects to improve irrigation management systems to save water and energy and reduce related greenhouse gas emissions.

SWEEP is credited with saving annually over 100,000 acre-feet of water, the equivalent of 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Climate science predicts California will experience longer and more severe droughts in the years and decades to come. Now is the time to invest, not divest, in water-smart farming.

Finally, the state’s most popular dairy methane program saw its budget cut by two-thirds.  The Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) funds dairies and livestock operations to turn wet manure into dry manure to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Most of the AMMP projects are turning manure into compost, an important resource for the Healthy Soils Initiative. This year 91 dairies and livestock operators applied for the program, seeking $55 million in funding. Today, the legislature cut AMMP funding to just $7 million. That will not only hurt methane reduction efforts in the state, but it will also hurt industry efforts to address water quality issues at a time of steep declines in dairy prices.

“Today’s budget vote is a mix of wins and losses for advancing agricultural solutions to climate change,” said Jeanne Merrill, Policy Director with the California Climate and Agriculture Network. “We must continue to invest in our farmers and ranchers to support Climate Smart Agriculture that keeps producers on the land, our communities healthy and our food security thriving. Governor Newsom and legislative leaders embraced one important strategy – Healthy Soils – to support our farms and ranches to become carbon sinks. But the stripping of funding for water smart farming and the bare bones funding for the most popular dairy methane program in the state are steps backward in California’s leadership on climate change and agriculture issues. We cannot address the climate crisis or the health and economic crises in our rural and agricultural communities without resources. California was a global leader on these issues. Will it remain one?”

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