Governor Newsom signed a 2023-24 fiscal year budget that has some good news and some bad news for the state’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs. The budget deal struck with the legislature includes a total of $50 million of investments in these popular programs, but rescinds a total of $55 million from prior year’s budgets.
Here are the details as agreed upon by state legislators and the Governor:
- The Healthy Soils Program will get $50 million in the coming year, a big improvement over the May version of the Governor’s budget which included only $10 million. The final budget also included a cut of $15 million in unspent funds from the budget approved last year, leaving $70 million for FY 2022-23, which has yet to be awarded, and $50 million for FY 2023-24.
- For the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), an on-farm water and energy conservation program, $40 million was clawed back from the FY 2022-23 budget, leaving $70 million available and not yet awarded. The budget includes no funding at all for FY 2023-24.
- The Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) that reduces methane emissions on dairy and livestock operations includes no funding at all for 2023-24. That leaves $48 available and not yet awarded.
The budget cuts come on the heels of historically large budgets in 2021 and 2022 for the three Climate Smart Agriculture programs which were made when the state had huge surpluses. This year, facing a more than $31 billion deficit, many climate programs were on the chopping block. California’s tax structure leads to a boom and bust pattern for state revenue and has led to a disruption in the momentum of the programs and disappointment for producers interested in applying to these programs. It is also harder for the technical assistance providers that do outreach, education, and support with grant applications and project implementation to have sufficient personnel to match the wildly fluctuating funding.
Another challenge of these large budget swings is having the administrative systems and staff in place to distribute the funds. Over the past two budget cycles, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which administers the Climate Smart Agriculture programs, was tasked with distributing over twice as much funding and managing thousands of new grant contracts with farmers and technical assistance providers for existing programs. During that same time CDFA also launched several new conservation programs (e.g., the Pollinator Habitat Program, Conservation Planning Grant Program, Organic Transition Pilot Program) which contributed to delays in funding delivery. When the state faces a deficit, unspent funds like those allocated for Healthy Soils and SWEEP for FY 2022-23 are often the first to be cut.
While we are disappointed by the cuts to these programs, we are also encouraged by CDFA’s new block grant pilot for Healthy Soils and SWEEP and a number of other administrative changes to improve program delivery that will hopefully prevent future delays in distributing funding.
A few compelling examples of what we have heard from farmers who have received a Climate Smart Agriculture grant include:
AMMP: “When this opportunity came around, I hopped on it. This system will be better for my crops, better for water quality and will make me a better farmer in the long run.”
Healthy Soils: ““Farming can play an integral role in wildlife enhancement as well as food production. The Healthy Soils grant allows us to see for ourselves the benefits of cover cropping in rice fields while being better stewards of our environment.”
SWEEP and Healthy Soils: “Before this farm was a ghost town. Now there is tons of life like diverse plants, bees and pollinators. And our neighbors and community members are noticing the difference and taking interest in what we’re doing.”
More Budget Impacts on Agriculture Programs
The budget also included the following decisions on funding climate-related agriculture programs.
Organic Transition Pilot Program — Established last year with a $5 million budget, it will receive another $5 million in FY 23-24. Organic systems are shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon while also eliminating the use of fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers.
Sustainable Ag Land Conservation (SALC) Program – The boost of $25 million allocated to SALC in the 2022-23 budget was rescinded, though the program’s regular funding from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund was left intact.
Pollinator Habitat Program – Launched just two years ago, $14.5 million was cut from last year’s allocation. The program requires applicants to demonstrate climate benefits from planting hedgerows and other plants that attract the pollinators essential to the production of almonds and other California crops.
Climate Smart Land Management Program – Cuts $4 million from last year’s budget for this program intended to implement projects or develop plans that increase climate action on California’s natural and working lands and advance the state’s Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart and Pathways to 30×30 strategies. Grants can fund projects with outcomes such as soil health, wildfire resiliency, habitat connectivity, protection of ecosystems and biodiversity at risk from climate impacts.
Conservation Agriculture Planning Grant Program – Cuts $21.5 million from last year’s budget and provides no funding in 2023-24. This CDFA program was launched last year to fund the development of plans to help farmers and ranchers identify actions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Strategies for Creating Longer-Term Financial Stability
Recognizing the need for reliable, robust and longer-term sources of revenue to fund for sustainable and climate-smart agriculture, earlier this year Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisin City) introduced AB 408, the Climate-Resilient Farms, Sustainable Healthy Food Access, and Farmworker Protection Bond Act of 2024. She joins a growing chorus of legislators and the Governor who recognize the need for investing in climate solutions and infrastructure on natural and working lands, including the Assembly’s next Speaker Robert Rivas, who will be sworn in on June 30th, and who authored a similar bill in 2021 and is a co-author on AB 408.
Assemblymember Wilson’s bill proposes a bond measure for voters to approve in 2024 that would help create a more equitable and resilient food system with proposed funding is four related areas:
- Sustainable agriculture: Incentives for practices that improve soil health, water conservation, manure management, pollinator habitat and air and water quality
- Farmworker well-being: Affordable, healthy, energy efficient housing
- Healthy, sustainable food access: School kitchen infrastructure, senior nutrition programs, food bank equipment
- Regional food infrastructure: Distribution centers, local food processing facilities, cold storage, fisheries facilities
The bill sailed through the Assembly with bipartisan support and will next be considered in the Senate. Please add your organization or farm to the growing list of supporters by signing on to this letter below.
CalCAN is one of the co-sponsors of the bond bill along with 17 other organizations in the Food and Farm Resilience Coalition, a diverse group of organizations working across a number of sectors including food access, environmental justice, sustainable agriculture, labor, and public health.