News From the Farm | November 14, 2016

Guest contribution from our friends at the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN)

Healthy soils not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, but also provide tangible benefits to farmers’ bottom lines, their communities’ health, and the wildlife around them. So wouldn’t it be great if farmers could get paid to improve soil health? Thanks to new groundbreaking legislation, they can.

California is launching a first-of-its-kind program to pay farmers to adopt agricultural practices that enhance soil health and mitigate climate change. The state legislature established the Healthy Soils Program in late August and provided $7.5 million in start-up funding. The program will provide grants to growers for on-farm demonstration projects and soil management practices that provide clear climate benefits such as applying compost, mulching, and planting hedgerows.

img_0945Food “waste,” or food production?

The CalCAN coalition and a wide network of partners were strong advocates for this funding, and though it’s less than we asked for, it’s a good start. We are also pleased that our efforts to ensure the program’s long-term integrity succeeded. We strengthened the legislation’s definition of “healthy soils” to recognize their function as a biological system and the importance of soil organic matter and water- and nutrient-holding capacity. CalCAN also ensured support for projects across all farming types. Furthermore, CalCAN won a provision that increases the number and diversity of members on the program’s Science Advisory Panel. These members will be important in providing the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which oversees the program, with balanced perspectives on how to implement the program.

So what’s next? Now that the funds are available, CDFA will develop guidelines for the new grant program and then sometime in 2017 open a grant application period to farmers who want to implement climate-friendly practices on their land. At CalCAN, we will offer recommendations for how the program can support innovative farming practices with multiple ecological benefits and reach farmers across the state, including small- and mid-sized farms and under-resourced growers.

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