Policy Update

CAFF’s Policy Program: 2016 Year-End Review

by Pete Price, CAFF Board Member

CAFF’s policy program is an integral part of our mission to build sustainable food and farming systems in California. This year-end review summarizes the work of the policy program in 2016, under the leadership of our policy director, Dave Runsten.


CAFF’s policy program is overseen by the Policy Committee, a standing committee of CAFF’s board of directors. In 2016 we expanded the committee to include farmers who are members of CAFF but are not on the board. This expanded roster gives the committee more geographic representation from around the state and broader input from working farmers. We think this approach has been very successful and will consider adding additional advisory members in 2017.

CAFF Policy Committee 2016

Board committee members:

Pete Price, Chair • Sacramento
Dale Coke, Coke Farm • San Juan Bautista
Paul Kaiser, Singing Frogs Farm • Sebastopol
Ken Kimes, New Natives  •  Aptos
Cindy Lashbrook, Riverdance Farms  •  Livingston

Non-board committee members:

Bob Knight, Old Grove Orange  •  Redlands
John LaBoyteaux, Camp Grant Ranch  •  Humboldt and Lake Counties
Doug Mosel, Mendocino Grain Project  •  Ukiah
Judith Redmond, Fully Belly Farm  •  Guinda
Steve Sprinkel, Rancho Del Pueblo Farm  •  Ojai


CAFF is the leading advocate in Sacramento for sustainable agriculture and family farmers. In 2016 we monitored 18 bills and took positions on many of them. CAFF’s positions, letters to legislators and final actions can be found in the annual table on our website.

Of particular note, years of work by CAFF and our coalition partner, CalCAN, finally bore fruit in 2016 when the Legislature passed and the Governor signed two bills to promote climate-friendly farming practices:

  • SB 859 (Wolk) – reforms the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Environmental Farming program and establishes the Healthy Soils program at CDFA, which will provide financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers who adopt farming practices, such as cover crops, compost usage and no-till cultivation, to reduce carbon emissions and sequester carbon in soils and woody biomass.
  • AB 1613 (Assembly Budget Committee) – appropriates $7.5 million from the state’s cap and trade auction revenues to support CDFA’s Healthy Soils program.
  • SB 1386 (Wolk) was a related bill that declares as state policy that the protection and management of natural and working lands is an important strategy in meeting the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. It has been difficult to get the Legislature and the Air Resources Board to see the potential for these lands to sequester carbon, but with the passage of SB 32, which requires the state to reduce GHGs to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, it will be important to bring more focus to these lands.

We also intervened in two other bills: AB 1810 (Levine), which exempts informal seed swaps from the state’s seed labeling laws, was signed into law after a circuitous route. CAFF’s lobbyist, Justin Malan, was instrumental in forging the final deal that saved the bill. AB 2324 (Eggman) enacted modest reforms to the state’s Certified Farmers Markets law, and CAFF’s contribution was to add raw sheared wool to the list of agricultural products that may be sold at a CFM.


For some years, CAFF has been developing a proposal for a new farm worker immigration program to replace the current H-2A program. The H-2A program brings in groups of workers for limited seasonal work, requires growers to provide housing, meals, transport, and in general costs about 40% more than hiring a worker outside of the program. It is unworkable for most family farmers and has a history of abuse of workers, since they are not allowed to change employers. The 2013 US Senate bill on comprehensive immigration reform proposed an alternative that would be almost as costly and unworkable, although it did allow workers to move from farm to farm.

CAFF’s proposal was developed in collaboration with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and is the official policy position of that coalition. The latest version can be found on our website . Our approach is to issue work visas to individual immigrants, require them to work 100 days a year in agriculture, and to use the labor market to allocate their work. The elimination of onerous requirements on employers would allow all farmers to hire such workers, and the issuance of individual visas would allow the workers to come and go from the country and eventually earn legal permanent residence if they obeyed the program’s rules. We have discussed this proposal with an array of organizations and we hope to hold a conference in 2017 to discuss competing proposals.


The CAFF policy program has been working on food safety policy for 10 years. Dave Runsten co-chairs the relevant committee at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and has participated in the development of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in Congress, FDA’s rulemaking, and now the creation of FDA guidances, attempting to protect the interests of small farms and organic farms. As with all priority policy issues, CAFF attempts to pair policy work with outreach to farmers. Over the last five years we have talked about food safety to 2,000 farmers in workshops and helped 200 farms develop food safety plans. We have just re-launched our food safety outreach program with a new manager, Kali Feiereisel, and we look forward to assisting many more farmers in the coming years as FSMA is implemented.


Similar to our approach to food safety, after years of working with CalCAN to create a program in the state that supports climate-smart agricultural practices—and having finally succeeded—in 2016 we launched a new program to work directly with farmers to implement such practices, including cover crops and compost applications. We have been developing two pilot projects, one on the use of animals in perennial crops and the other on intensive no-till vegetable production, and we are hiring a program manager. In 2017 we will launch these pilots and assist farmers in applying to the state for funding from the Healthy Soils program.


In 2016 we finished up the wine grape water use efficiency program that we have operated for several years and launched a revamped CA Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative website. Approximately a third of the participants in our workshops reported changing their irrigation practices to use water more efficiently.


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