CDFA’s Science Panel Discusses Agriculture’s Role in Meeting State Carbon Neutrality Goal, Climate Smart Ag Programs

Posted on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022 by Anna Larson
Photo Credit: USDA NRCS

California Agriculture’s Role in State Carbon Neutrality Goal

The CDFA Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel  (EFA SAP) met this month and had a robust discussion regarding the state’s climate Scoping Plan Update, as well as the latest updates on climate smart agriculture program from California Department of Food and Agriculture staff.

Scoping Plan Modeling Scenarios Released, Undercount Emissions Reductions Associated with Healthy Soils, Organic Agriculture 

California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff gave a presentation on their 2022 Scoping Plan Update, which assesses progress towards achieving California’s mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below the 1990 level by 2030, and to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. The Scoping Plan must be updated every five years. Earlier Scoping Plan updates did not robustly include the role of natural and working lands in sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Overview of cropland scenarios from a CARB presentation on Natural and Working Lands Scenarios.

After years of advocacy by CalCAN and many of our partners for more robust inclusion of agricultural solutions in the Scoping Plan, the 2022 Scoping Plan Update will include strategies for increasing carbon sequestration and reducing GHG emissions for the state’s farms, forests, wetlands and urban greenery.  As part of this effort, CARB recently modeled five different natural and working lands scenarios that prioritize different goals, including a business-as-usual scenario. 

A significant limitation of the croplands scenario modeling is that CARB did not include the benefits of reducing or eliminating nitrous oxide emissions from synthetic fertilizers when farmers and ranchers use healthy soils practices or transition to organic agriculture. This omission undercounts the role of healthy soils practices and organic agriculture, which does not allow use of synthetic fertilizer, in decreasing nitrous oxide emissions. The panel asked about this omission, as well as why the carbon sequestration benefits of perennial agriculture were not modeled in the scenarios. Advocates have outlined the issue in more detail with proposed solutions here.

Fertilizer, Nitrous Oxide Emissions, and Irrigation Efficiency

At the EFA SAP meeting, Renee Pinel from the Western Plant Health Association, an agrochemical and biotech trade association, Dr. Sat Darshan Singh Khalsa from UC Davis, and Dr. Martin Burger from CDFA, each presented on their work and research regarding fertilizers and greenhouse gas emissions. Their research highlighted that in California’s cropping systems and climate, irrigation system type, timing, and volume of water applied are a major factor in nitrous oxide emissions. In California, the shift from flood or furrow irrigation to drip or micro drip irrigation and fertigation has been a significant driver in reducing nitrous oxide emissions. However, it is not clear that this benefit has been captured in the state’s efforts to draft the new Scoping Plan Update. 

CARB will release its draft of the Scoping Plan Update in May. CalCAN will be engaged in the process. If you would like more information about the Scoping Plan and how to provide public input, please get in touch with us:

Climate Smart Agriculture Program Updates, New HSP Data

CDFA program staff gave updates on the state’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs.

Draft guidelines for the new state Pollinator Habitat Program, which provides funding for on-farm practices that promote pollinator health, have been released and the program has $15M for FY 2021-2022 and an additional $15M for FY 2022-2023 to grant to eligible recipient organizations. The application period is expected to open in the next few months. 

The Healthy Soils Program, which has $67.5M in funding for awards this year, received a total of 1,328 incentive applications requesting $90.5M. About 26% of applications were from socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers (SDFRs). Over 40% of applicants utilized the technical assistance (TA) program or UCCE Climate Smart Agriculture advisors for application assistance. CDFA also provided a breakdown of when applications were received. 

The two highest weeks were December 30 to January 6 and February 18 – February 24, which was the week before the application period closed and well after the point when demand had already exceeded available funding, reigniting the question of whether a first-come, first-serve application process is fair and equitable to farmers who need more time and assistance to apply or are applying to the program for the first time. 

We were glad to hear several panel members ask about the impact of the rolling application process on farmers’ application experience and SDFR applications in particular. Anecdotally, we heard from farmers who felt they were in an extremely stressful sprint to submit their applications before funding ran out and from technical assistance providers who felt forced to encourage farmers to reduce the number of practices in their application in order to submit it sooner. We also heard from farmers and technical assistance providers who were discouraged from submitting their application after CDFA indicated demand for the program had already exceeded available funding. While we know that overall 26% of applications were by SDFRs, we echo the panel’s comment that it would be helpful to see a breakdown of when SDFRs applied to the program to better understand if an application process with a fixed deadline might help improve access and fairness in the program. For this year’s applicants, technical review of their application will be complete by May 2022.

The State Water Efficiency Enhancement Program (SWEEP), which has $43M for awards this year, received 562 applications requesting $83.7M. About 25% of funds went to SDFRs, and about 73% of projects went to Central California producers. We were pleased to learn that CDFA is working with Colorado State University researchers and CARB to develop a simplified tool to estimate water efficiency and the GHG emissions (including nitrous oxide) benefits of SWEEP projects – the importance of which was highlighted by the earlier presentations on nitrous oxide, fertilizer, and water. CDFA anticipates completing the tool by the end of 2022.

Staff also provided an update on the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP), which is currently accepting applications for this round through May 9, 2022. Last year, the legislature required CDFA to prioritize AMMP in its dairy methane portfolio. However, “prioritization” has meant that instead of 70% of dairy methane dollars going to digesters, 60% of the funds are going to DDRDP for digesters, which is not prioritization of AMMP.  The vast majority of dairy farms cannot install digesters because digesters require expensive capital investments and require high amounts of manure. Meanwhile, AMMP continues to be oversubscribed and over $50M was requested in 2020, while only 13 projects totaling $8.9M were funded. We encouraged CDFA to allocate no less than 50% of dairy methane funding to AMMP in the current fiscal year. For the coming state budget, CalCAN is seeking $50 million in standalone allocation for AMMP in the FY 22-23 state budget, ending the funding split with digesters.

Staff also provided updates on the Water Efficiency Technical Assistance (WETA) program, the SWEEP Southern Desert Pilot, and the Technical Assistance for Climate Smart Agriculture Program. For more information on these programs, view the presentation materials available here.

Future blog posts will provide updates on the new state budget after the Governor’s May Revise budget is released, which is anticipated on May 13th.  

If you have any questions about the state’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs, please feel free to drop us a line:

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