Five Recommendations for CDFA’s New Climate Smart Ag Technical Assistance Program

Posted on Thursday, May 30th, 2019 by Brian Shobe
Steven Sinton Ranch in Templeton, California. Photo Credit: USDA NRCS

Later this summer or fall, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) will launch a new program to provide grants to technical assistance providers to support farmers and ranchers in adopting climate smart practices and participating in the Healthy Soils, SWEEP and AMMP programs. As CDFA deliberates on the design of the grants program, CalCAN and dozens of experienced technical assistance providers are offering their recommendations on how to maximize the impact and reach of the program.

Technical Assistance Key to Scaling up Agricultural Climate Solutions

One of CalCAN’s core principles is that with sufficient resources, farmers and ranchers can deliver powerful and unique climate solutions. One of those necessary resources is a knowledgeable, trusted, and reliable technical assistance (TA) provider, like those on staff with many Resource Conservation Districts, county Cooperative Extension offices, and NGOs.

Farmers and ranchers are extraordinarily busy people, managing complex businesses in a risky, low-margin, and ever-changing business environment. This reality makes taking time to learn about and experiment with new management practices a slow and time-consuming process.

Without technical assistance, many farmers do not have the resources, time, or energy to learn about, plan, implement, and monitor climate smart practices on their own, much less do the paperwork associated with applying for and tracking government incentive grants. This is especially true for small and mid-scale producers and historically disenfranchised farmers and ranchers who do not have ready access to paid consultants. 

Comprehensive and culturally-responsive technical assistance – including outreach, education, planning, project design, and application and implementation assistance – acts as the necessary bridge for farmers and ranchers to successfully participate in the CDFA’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs.

TA providers also act as catalysts for the broader transition to Climate Smart Agriculture. As trusted members of their local communities, they facilitate the transfer of knowledge between producers; host field days and educational events to demonstrate innovative practices, research, and technologies; and problem-solve the unique challenges of individual farms. They also help producers utilize and piece together various funding sources, from farm bill programs to private conservation initiatives, which are necessary to scale up climate-smart agriculture.

AB 2377 Increases Funding for Comprehensive Technical Assistance

CalCAN sponsored AB 2377 last year to increase the availability and consistency of comprehensive technical assistance to farmers and ranchers interested in making their farms more resilient and productive and participating in climate-smart incentive programs. With the help of the bill author Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, CDFA, and many partners, AB 2377 passed both chambers of the legislature with unanimous, bipartisan votes and was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. As a result, a minimum of five percent of funds allocated to the Healthy Soils, SWEEP, and AMMP programs will automatically go towards technical assistance.

To put this in perspective, if the Senate’s recently proposed budget of $90 million for the three Climate Smart Agriculture programs were to be enacted, at least $4.5 million would be available for technical assistance. The Senate and Assembly are currently negotiating the budget, so the final funding levels for the Climate Smart Agriculture programs are still being hashed out. We wrote about those negotiations and the different budget proposals yesterday on our blog.


Grounded Recommendations for Implementing the New Technical Assistance Program

To implement AB 2377, CDFA is now drafting the guidelines and application for the new Climate Smart Agriculture Technical Assistance Program. CDFA released its first draft in April, opened a public comment period and held two listening sessions to gather input on the draft.

CalCAN submitted a letter on behalf of 18 stakeholder organizations who collectively have assisted approximately 450 farmers and ranchers interested in the Climate Smart Agriculture programs. Below, we provide a summary of five of the letter’s recommendations (see the full letter for details).

1. Allow the full range of TA activities identified by TA providers and envisioned in AB 2377
This includes allowing:

  • Traveling to farms and agricultural community meetings to conduct farm visits, site surveys, and educate farmers about Climate Smart Agriculture practices and programs.
  • Developing conservation plans (including carbon farm plans) that incorporate Climate Smart Agriculture practices.
  • Assisting in obtaining permits.
  • Arranging rented or shared equipment (e.g. compost spreaders, no-till drills) and/or volunteer labor for project implementation.
  • Sub-contracting translation services for materials and meetings with producers.

2. Replace the proposed two-phase, commission-based structure with a standard grant structure that:

  • Gives TA providers the flexibility to be responsive to the needs of unique farmers/ranchers, especially socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers (SDFRs).
  • Allows TA providers to create an accurate and consistent budget, retain staff or contract partners, and build their capacity over the course of the 3-year grant.
  • Eases TA provider administrative burdens to maximize the time TA providers are providing direct services to farmers/ranchers.

3. Allow federally-approved indirect rates for organizations that have them and a 20% indirect rate for those that do not.
Sufficient indirect rates are essential to making these grants feasible for RCDs, UCCE, and NGOs, which often have very little general operating funds.

4. Include people with relevant TA experience as part of an external review committee with an appropriate recusal policy to avoid conflicts of interest.
In order to ensure the most impactful proposals are awarded, reviewers must have enough knowledge of the landscape of TA providers and how TA works for agricultural conservation incentive programs to shrewdly evaluate work plans, budgets, and qualifications.

5. Remove the requirement that TA providers must provide services to multiple counties.
This requirement would have an exclusionary effect, legal limitations, and unintended consequences for TA providers within RCDs, UCCE, and County Farm Bureaus to serve producers outside their defined service area.

You can read the full letter and its recommendations here.

What’s Next?

CDFA will revise the draft Request for Proposals in June and release its next iteration at least 10 days prior to the July 18 Science Advisory Panel meeting. During that meeting, CDFA will again take public comments – both in-person and remotely via the webinar –  before the Panel votes to recommend changes or approve the Request for Proposals.

If you’re interested in staying informed about this new technical assistance grant program and/or weighing in on the program at the next available opportunity, please contact Brian[at]

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