Dispatch from Sacramento: Governor Ups Commitment to Climate-smart Agriculture in May Revision

Last Thursday, Governor Newsom released his May Revision of the California State Budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 starting July 1, 2019. American Farmland Trust has been on the frontline advocating for enhancements to the Healthy Soils Program and funding for natural and working lands programs. We’re happy to report this release reflected some good news for advocates of climate-smart agriculture programs; however, there is still room for advancing critical programs like the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, or SWEEP, which remains zeroed out in the May Revise.

As part of a coalition of sustainable agriculture leaders, technical service providers, and community recycling advocates, AFT worked tirelessly to ensure the legislature and administration kept the governor’s “passion” for healthy soils at the forefront while the administration was lobbied for competing funding across social, housing, environment, and other programs. During the May Revise press conference, the governor didn’t specifically call out climate-smart agriculture as he did in the January budget release; however, he did point to funding that would address critical livestock diseases, such as Newcastle disease which has devastated much of southern California’s laying hen industry. CDFA Secretary Ross later emphasized that when we’re farming on the urban edge, we need to tool up our urban farmers so they’re able to take appropriate precautions such as disease prevention.

Climate-smart Agriculture Programs – Saving Soil by the Inch

The governor’s budget in January sought to increase monies to the Healthy Soils Program by funding an increase of $3 million from the prior year allocation, making the January proposal amount to $18 million. In his May Revise, the governor added an additional $10 million to his original proposal increasing the proposed allocation to $28 million for the Healthy Soils Program, reflecting an overall increase of $13 million for this program. AFT continues to advocate for this funding being allocated at a higher level ($50 million) to build much needed capacity for supporting farms across the state.

Methane Reduction

The Methane Reduction program includes the Agricultural Manure Management Program, or AMMP, and Dairy Digesters. The original budget included a decrease in program funding from $99 million to $25 million. During the May Revise, an additional $10 million was restored, bringing the overall program to $35 million. AFT continues to advocate for additional funding to bring this program to a minimum of $40 million. While AFT appreciates additional funding towards this program, the proposed funds still fall short in meeting the $54 million in grant applications recently received by CDFA. AMMP is a key link in providing a sustainable source of compost for farms and ranches looking to improve soil health.

SWEEP – Swept Under the Rug

SWEEP provides financial assistance in the form of grants to implement irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on California agricultural operations. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done as this program zeroed out funding for next year. AFT is requesting $40 million to fund this critical program. While California is out of a drought, it is imperative that programs such as SWEEP continue to drive water efficiency on our working lands.

FARMER Program

The Revision did include a significant increase of $65 million to the Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions, or FARMER, Program. In the January budget proposal, this program, which provides funding for agricultural harvesting equipment, heavy-duty trucks, agricultural pump engines, tractors, and other equipment, was recommended to be funded at $25 million. With this infusion, total funding is recommended to be $90 million next year.

Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation Program

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, or GGRF, monies may not be settled by June 15. We’re hearing that the legislature is inclined to have the GGRF funding decided by the same deadline, but there is a technical provision that would allow the legislature to finalize this funding beyond the June 15 budget deadline. AFT will monitor related discussions to ensure funding for critical programs, like the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program which currently derives a 10 percent continuous appropriation, and funding for other programs related to natural and working lands, including the Healthy Soils and Methane Reduction programs.

Katie Patterson of AFT participates in a press conference with our coalition of partners and legislators.

Leading up to the release of the May Revision last week, AFT participated in a press conference with our coalition of partners and legislators, including Senator Henry Stern (SD-27), Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (AD-56), and Assembly Member Wendy Carrillo (AD-51), to request $400 million in funding for natural and working lands. This gathering represented the strong commitment of these and other legislative members to ensuring natural and working lands are prioritized and provided funding to expand programs vital to meeting the needs of California.

California Farmland Conservancy Program

The California Farmland Conservancy Program, or CFCP, is proposed to have $5 million in one-time funding from Proposition 68 monies. CFCP is a statewide grant program that supports local efforts to establish agricultural conservation easements and planning projects for the purpose of protecting valuable agricultural land. Created from an AFT-sponsored bill in 1995, CFCP was one of the first state easement purchase programs in the U.S.

Cap and Trade Funding

As the administration is working with a significant amount of one-time funding, it is recommending a one-time increase of $1.5 million for a study laying out the key actions the state must take to transition toward a carbon-neutral economy. The study will inform the California Air Resources Board’s Scoping Plan, which lays the foundation for achieving California’s ambitious goals, including achieving carbon-neutrality by 2045 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Monitoring this study will be critical to ensuring AFT policies and recommendations, including the protection of agricultural lands from conversion to urban uses, remain in place.

Affordable Housing

AFT has been monitoring statewide affordable housing proposals which have entailed providing incentives to communities to increase the inventory of affordable housing and promote higher density housing near transit-rich environments. These proposals are important to watch due to the critical nexus of development, sprawl, and valuable farmland and ranchland. While proposals are relatively focused on infill, AFT will continue to remain engaged in these discussions.

Looking Ahead to June

Budget hearings have started this week in order to initiate budget conference committee work in the first week of June. For the purposes of passing a budget, the legislature now has until June 15 to finalize its proposal to the governor for a spending plan. The governor has until June 30 to sign a budget. AFT will continue to work with the administration, our legislative champions, and our partners to ensure program funding is maintained, if not enhanced during this final push by the legislature.