Gov. Gavin Newsom has released his proposed state budget, which includes provisions for sustainable agriculture programs in California.
The proposed budget directs money to the state’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs, including the Healthy Soils Program and SWEEP, the State Water Efficiency Program.
California farmers last month told the Capital Press these and other Climate Smart Agriculture programs have given them financial incentives to sequester carbon, boosting their productivity and bottom line. Farmers told the Capital Press they’ve used the grants to build barns, improve composting methods, seed pastures, create pollinator habitats and grow hedgerows.
Newsom’s decision to continue supporting these programs came as a pleasant surprise to farmers and agricultural leaders, who were anticipating a huge cut as other priorities take center-stage during the pandemic.
“It’s a really nice surprise,” said Renata Brillinger, executive director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network, or CalCAN. “We didn’t think there would be any funding for these programs, so this is a pretty rosy financial picture compared to what was projected.”
The governor’s proposed spending for the remainder of this fiscal year and the 2021 through 2022 fiscal year includes:
• $30 million for the Healthy Soils Program.
• $40 million for the SWEEP program.
• Continued funding SALC, or the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program, at its current appropriation percentage.
• $6.7 million for the UC Cooperative Extension to employ small farm advisers.
• $60 million for groundwater planning and implementation projects in critically over-drafted basins.
• $6 million to improve regulatory relief to reduce burdens on farmers.
Despite these “wins,” Brillinger of CalCAN said she was disappointed that the governor did not include any funding for the popular Alternative Manure Management Program, or AMMP.
Loss of funding for this grant program will hurt farms, experts say.
Alexandre Family Farm in Crescent City, Calif., for example, has participated in the manure program multiple years.
Blake Alexandre, 58, who runs an organic dairy with his family, told the Capital Press the program has improved his animals’ health, boosted his soil quality and he has seen a “huge productivity increase.”
Although the governor’s proposal does keep the other programs alive, the dollar amounts for some programs are smaller than in previous years.
These grant pools are shrinking at a time when, Brillinger said, the programs are growing in popularity and demand from farmers was already two or three times as high as available funds.
Brillinger said it’s not yet clear why the governor cut the manure program’s funding or why he budgeted fewer dollars for the other programs, but she said it may be attributable to other financial priorities during COVID-19 and reduced funding sources, such as fewer cap-and-trade dollars this year generated at auctions.
California legislators will consider the proposed budget over the next several months and finalize it by mid-to-late June.
“Legislators may or may not have a different idea than the governor about what priorities are facing the state,” said Brillinger. “All of this is still subject to the whims of the legislature.”