The October meeting of the Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) was jam packed. Now that the election is over and hopefully our inboxes are all a little less inundated, we want to take a moment to update our Network on three important developments from that meeting.
1. New Comprehensive Technical Assistance Program Yields Early Results, Especially for Small/Mid-Scale Farmers
At the meeting, CDFA staff presented an update on the impact of the new Climate Smart Agriculture Technical Assistance Program, which was established by a bill CalCAN sponsored in 2018 (AB 2377). The program is currently funding 33 organizations to provide comprehensive technical assistance (TA) for three years to farmers and ranchers to help them successfully apply to and participate in the Healthy Soils Program (HSP) and Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP). The technical assistance for farmers and ranchers includes everything from program outreach and education, to project design and grant application assistance, to project implementation and reporting assistance.
The funded TA providers assisted over 1,100 individual farmers and ranchers in the first six months of 2020. Of those producers, nearly 750 were small and mid-scale farmers (<500 acres), nearly 180 were socially disadvantaged farmers as defined by the Farmer Equity Act, and a little more than 100 were non-English speaking farmers.
Furthermore, applications submitted with assistance from TA providers accounted for more than half of all HSP applications (324 out of 614 total) and approximately a third of AMMP applications (23 out of 79 total) in 2020. These data highlight the key role technical assistance played in driving record-breaking demand this year for these incentive programs, despite the pandemic. TA providers are now pivoting their focus to supporting farmers and ranchers who received HSP and AMMP grants in implementing and reporting on their projects.
2. Ad Hoc Advisory Group Forms to Update State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP)
Earlier this year, CalCAN submitted a joint request with the California Farm Bureau and other stakeholders to the Science Advisory Panel to convene a stakeholder advisory group to review and make recommendations for updates to SWEEP—the state’s only on-farm water efficiency incentive program—in light of new regulatory, technological, and policy developments.
The Panel reviewed and approved our request in July and subsequently released an invitation for individuals to apply to serve on the advisory group in September. More than forty individuals—a mix of farmers, irrigation experts, and SWEEP TA providers—applied to serve, demonstrating the strong interest in supporting and shaping the future of this important program. The Panel accepted all the applicants and is now in the process of scheduling the first meeting. If you would like to stay informed about this process, please contact me at Brian(at)calclimateag.org.
3. Panel Votes to Recommend CDFA Support Farmers in Transitioning to Organic and Developing Climate Smart Farming Plans (e.g. Carbon Farming Plans)
For the past year, CalCAN has been supporting a proposal from CCOF to incorporate into the Healthy Soils Program an option for a one-time payment for conventional farmers who want to transition to certified organic production to pay for a consultant to help them develop an organic system plan. CCOF first presented the proposal to the Science Advisory Panel in January for consideration, and the proposal was supported by 56 organizations and businesses, including over a dozen public health and environmental justice organizations.
At the October meeting, Panel members expressed strong support for the idea of assisting farmers in transitioning to organic. However, instead of incorporating CCOF’s proposal directly into the Healthy Soils Program, the Panel voted to recommend CDFA create a separate grant program to support farmers in transitioning to certified organic production, developing climate smart farming plans (e.g. carbon farm plans), and obtaining other certifications for farming systems and practices that achieve long-term climate benefits. It is unclear at this time if CDFA has the authority to create such a program and how such a program would be funded. While we were pleased to see the Science Advisory Panel so clearly recognize the multiple long-term health, environmental, and climate benefits associated with organic farming, we were disappointed the organic transition option was not directly incorporated into the Healthy Soils Program, which we maintain is the most simple and logical approach.
Check out CCOF’s blog for more info and background on CCOF’s Organic Transition Option proposal.
You can find all the presentations made to the Science Advisory Panel on October 15, including updates on HSP and SWEEP implementation and a proposed Healthy Soils Initiative Partnership Framework, on CDFA’s Science Advisory Panel webpage.