The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently proposed a number of improvements to the Healthy Soils Program (HSP), which should ease the application process for farmers. This is good news that comes ahead of the next round of funding for the program, which will make available a record $28 million in grants to farmers and ranchers (nearly twice as much as the last round).
The proposed improvements, summarized below, were included in CDFA’s recent draft Request for Grant Applications (RGA). The final Request for Grant Applications is expected to be released in February, which will officially kick off a 4-month rolling application period. If you have ever considered applying to the program, this will be a good year to do so!
We are excited about the proposed improvements because they align with our recommendations to address a number of barriers to scaling up the program identified in a survey we conducted of technical assistance providers in May of 2019. We are very grateful to CDFA for hosting listening sessions with more than 100 stakeholders in the summer and fall of 2019 and so clearly responding to much of the feedback with these proposed changes.
Summary of CDFA’s proposed improvements to the Healthy Soils Program:
- Increases the maximum grant award from $75,000 to $100,000.
- Allows previously implemented healthy soils practices to be implemented on a new, different field within the same (previously funded) Assessor Parcel Number (APN).
- Reduces the essay-type questions in the application.
- Integrates the budget worksheet’s payment rates into Comet-Planner and uses a map-based, integrated application input tool to reduce the number of attachments and external websites required in the application.
- Institutes a rolling application submission period of up to 4 months (or until funds expended).
- Instates a 25% set-aside of the total available funds for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (SDFRs) and projects benefitting low-income and disadvantaged communities.*
- Includes Whole Orchard Recycling (WOR) as an eligible practice.
- Promises to provide applicants notifications and feedback within 6 weeks of submitting their application.
We believe the above changes will greatly improve farmers’ and ranchers’ experience with the program and respond to many of the concerns and recommendations we have heard over the years from stakeholders implementing this program on the ground.
We will continue to seek some remaining changes based on stakeholder feedback, which you can read about in our recent comment letter on the draft RGA. But the big takeaway is the application process for this next round should be noticeably improved.
If you are considering applying, we strongly encourage you to find a local technical assistance provider who can help you understand the program rules, design a project, successfully fill out the application, and even help out with implementation and reporting – all free-of-charge.
There are over 40 technical assistance providers funded by the state to provide this free assistance. Find one in your region by going to these two links below:
- CDFA-Funded Technical Assistance Providers
- UCANR Climate Smart Agriculture Team’s Technical Assistance Providers
Stay tuned: We will post another blog when the final Request for Applications is released and the application period officially opens.
* Note: We strongly support prioritizing SDFRs and projects benefitting Priority Populations. Such prioritization aligns with the intentions of AB 1348 (the Farmer Equity Act) and other legislation (SB 535, AB 1550, SB 5) authorizing the expenditure of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) and bond dollars for climate programs. However, because SDFRs by themselves make up between 20-25% of all farmers in California (2017 Ag Census Data), a single 25% set-aside for both SDFRs and projects benefitting Priority Populations (categories that often do not overlap) will not ensure that SDFRs will receive a proportional share of funds. We recommend CDFA narrow the set-aside to just SDFRs and prioritize projects benefitting Priority Populations in a different way (e.g. a standard number of extra points in scoring).