Policy Update

Policy updates:

2017 Apr 25 | April Policy Update
2017 Feb 24 | Healthy Soils and Compost – The Unsexy Issue



April Policy Update

April 25, 2017

by Pete Price, CAFF Board Member

As described in the last policy update, in 2017 CAFF is concentrating on working with state agencies to make sure important recently-enacted laws, including the Healthy Soils Act and laws to promote compost, are effectively implemented. But the annual legislative process is inexorable, and it is now in full swing. Here are some of the recently introduced bills CAFF is working on this year:


SB 252 (Dodd) – CAFF was the first agricultural organization to support the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which gave local agencies up to seven years to prepare groundwater management plans that will prevent continued overdraft.   In the interim, there has been a rush of applications for new deep wells, often opening up new lands to groundwater irrigation and exacerbating overdraft problems. SB 252 requires applicants for new wells in the 21 groundwater basins found by the Department of Water Resources to be “critically overdrafted” to make public key information about the well, such as its location, depth, and extraction rate. CAFF Supports

AB 1420 (Aguiar-Curry) – CAFF has worked with North Coast farmers and water agencies to make it easier for farmers to store water in small ponds during high river flows in order to reduce dependence on streams during the dry summer months. AB 1420 seeks to implement this concept statewide, by allowing increased water diversion during high stream flows for small domestic, irrigation and stock pond use, in exchange for reduced diversions during low stream flows. CAFF Supports

AB 277 (Mathis) – California helps fund drinking water infrastructure improvements by offering grants and low-interest loans to local governments and water agencies, usually through state clean drinking water bonds. But those programs do not include privately owned residences and small water systems with deficient wells, which is a growing problem, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. AB 277 would expand the State Drinking Water Revolving Fund to include grants and low-interest loans to improve water delivery systems for households and small water systems with less than 15 service connections. AB 277 received bi-partisan support in policy committee but now faces fiscal scrutiny in the Appropriations Committee. CAFF Supports


AB 822 (Caballero) – This Buy California-grown proposal would require all state-owned and state-run institutions, except public school districts, colleges and universities, to accept a bid for a food product when it is grown in California and does not exceed the lowest bid by an out-of-state producer by more than 5%. When out-of-state bids are chosen, the 5% preference also applies to food products packed or processed in-state. CAFF Supports

SB 782 (Skinner) – CAFF has been a state leader in creating Farm to School programs for two decades. SB 782 would significantly expand the state’s support for Farm to School by requiring CDFA, with the Departments of Education and Public Health, to create a program to provide direct grants to school districts for the purchase of California-grown food products. CAFF strongly supports the concept, but seeks amendments to ensure the funds are most effectively used and locally-produced foods are emphasized. CAFF Supports if Amended

AB 1219 (Eggman) – Food donations to the needy are undeniably worthwhile, and state law encourages donations by giving limited immunity from liability for organizations that make or receive such donations. AB 1219 expands this concept by extending liability immunity to individuals who donate food and applying the immunity for businesses and organizations that donate directly to individual end-users. CAFF Supports

Farmland and farmers

AB 18 (E. Garcia) and SB 5 (De Leon) – These bills are very similar and would place a $3 billion ($3.1 billion in AB 18) bond measure on the June 2018 ballot to improve drinking water, protect natural resources and habitat, fight drought and climate change, and ensure public access to parks and public lands. Prior natural resources bond measures have included funding for the state Farmland Conservancy Program. CAFF and its coalition partner CalCAN are seeking an amendment to include FCP funding. CAFF Supports if Amended

AB 472 (Frazier) – In recent years the state has taken small steps to encourage farmers, when they fallow land as a result of a water transfer, to voluntarily retain a cover crop or leave natural cover for waterfowl and game bird nesting purposes.  But farmers still fear they will be penalized by the Dept. of Water Resources if they fail to remove vegetative cover. AB 472 will require DWR to allow vegetative cover to remain on idled land unless it finds that other water users would be harmed; the bill also requires DWR to establish a financial incentive program to encourage landowners to voluntarily manage such lands for bird and wildlife habitat. CAFF Supports

AB 1433 (Wood) – The state’s cap and trade program generates $1-$2 billion annually to fund the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. AB 1433 would create a new account in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, to protect and improve the resilience of natural and working lands, including farmland and rangeland, and to enhance habitat while reducing GHG emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. AB 1433 is consistent with CAFF’s support for the Healthy Soils Initiative and other efforts to reduce climate change impacts through agricultural practices. CAFF Supports

AB 1348 (Aguiar-Curry) – Seeks to address the historical barriers faced by socially disadvantaged farmers in California, including ethnic minorities and women, by requiring CDFA to include socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers when the state develops, implements and enforces its food and agriculture laws. Also requires the Secretary of Agriculture to create a position in the department’s executive office to support socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. CAFF Supports

To track the progress of these and other bills, visit our CA Legislation page.


Healthy Soils and Compost – The Unsexy Issue

From CAFF’s Jan/Feb e-news • February 24, 2017

by Pete Price, CAFF Board Member

In the world of politics and governance, passing legislation is considered the sexy stuff. It’s true! You write a bill, meet with legislators, negotiate endlessly, testify in committees, have dramatic votes, write press releases (and if you’re lucky actually get an article posted to a popular website or – old school – a newspaper), lobby the governor for a signature, and feel like the last person standing at the OK Corral when the bill is signed.

But then comes the decidedly unsexy part: bird-dogging the state agencies to make sure they actually implement the new law as intended. It requires even more – a lot more – meetings to settle all the details that were left to the agencies and stakeholders to decide. That’s where CAFF is in 2017 with two important and related issues: reducing and sequestering greenhouse gases (GHGs) from agricultural practices and increasing the use of compost in agriculture.

Healthy Soils

CAFF worked for years to get the Legislature and Governor to recognize the opportunities for farmers to reduce and sequester GHGs from the agricultural sector, by adopting a suite of sustainable practices – many long practiced by organic farmers. Through our coalition partner CalCAN (California Climate and Agriculture Network) we finally succeeded in 2016. The Legislature and Governor Brown enacted SB 1350 (Wolk), which created the Healthy Soils program at CDFA and approved a $7.5 million appropriation from the state’s cap-and-trade program to incentivize farmers to adopt climate-friendly practices and to fund demonstration projects to analyze the efficacy of those practices.

Now CalCAN and CAFF are spending their time not in the ornate halls of the Capitol building, but inside the circa 1950s institutional green walls of the Department of Food and Agriculture, hammering out the important but tedious details of the program: which practices will qualify for incentive funding? Can the Air Resources Board (ARB), which must account for GHG reductions, accurately measure emissions reductions resulting from, for example, cover crops, compost applications, and reduced tillage? Will CDFA adequately consider the many co-benefits of many of these practices, as the law requires? Will CDFA provide technical assistance to applicants to ensure grants are not limited to the largest agricultural entities with the biggest army of lawyers and consultants?

CDFA is seeking comment now on these issues and more, and CAFF, through CalCAN, will be submitting comments along with many other supporters of the Healthy Soils program. CDFA plans to release an initial solicitation for Healthy Soils grants in May, with applications due in June and awards announced in September – but don’t be surprised if these dates slip a bit. Still, this is an important, if unglamorous, time for a program that CAFF has long fought for, and finally won.


As CAFF members, we love compost. The idea of turning waste materials into nutrient-rich soil amendments is, dare I say . . . sexy.   But in the Capitol we are a distinct minority.

Still, the Legislature and Governor have given more attention than they have wanted to compost, because when organic materials – the feedstock of compost – rot in a landfill, they produce prodigious amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And California disposes of a prodigious amount of organic material. In fact, according to CalRecycle, the state agency that oversees solid waste management and recycling, 43% of the state’s waste stream is organic material and more than half of that is compostable food waste, yard waste and paper. What a waste!

In recent years the Legislature has enacted several bills to divert organic materials from landfills and use the material to make compost:

  • AB 1826 (2014) creates a system to reduce disposal of commercial organics (mainly from restaurants and commercial gardeners) by 50% by 2020
  • AB 1594 (2014) eliminates rules that incentivized landfills to accept organic materials instead of diverting them for recycling.
  • AB 876 (2015) requires local governments to identify 15 years of organics processing capacity by 2017
  • SB 1383 (2016) set statutory target of 75% reduction in landfilling of organics by 2025

CAFF supported these bills because we know the agronomic benefits that result from adding compost to farmland, including increased soil organic matter, increased soil nutrient value, and increased water retention in soil. When we also consider the avoided GHG emissions from diverting organic material from landfills, compost is a big winner for both agriculture and the environment.

Unfortunately, big questions loom about whether these goals will be met. The cost of producing and transporting compost to farm areas makes it difficult to compete economically with synthetic fertilizers. And for many farmers there is a learning curve to be confident in the results that compost will yield.

But even more importantly, the production of compost is subject to a complicated set or regulations promulgated by three agencies – the Air Resources Board, the State Water Resources Control Board, and CalRecycle – that, to be generous, do not fit together seamlessly. Rules from the agencies sometimes overlap and conflict and have the effect of driving up the cost of producing compost until it is uneconomic in the marketplace. Meanwhile, local governments are on the regulatory hook to meet the state’s targets to divert organic from landfills. This is hardly the desired outcome for a Legislature that has made it clear it wants to see organic materials diverted from landfills and into compost.

Last year Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D-Ventura) authored AB 1045 to require the California Environmental Protection Agency – which includes ARB, SWRCB, and CalRecycle – to report to the Legislature by January 1, 2017 on how it will promote the production and use of compost and coordinate compost regulations to minimize barriers. But CalEPA has failed to comply and no report has yet been submitted.

Under the leadership of CAFF’s Policy Director, Dave Runsten, CAFF has engaged four students at the UC Berkeley School of Public Policy to review and make recommendations on ways to make the regulatory structure for compost production work better. CAFF also is working with the California Compost Coalition, an association of statewide compost producers, and the various CalEPA agencies to pressure them to comply with AB 1045, so that compost can make the contribution it should to improving California agriculture and reducing GHG emissions. This work is out of the spotlight and definitely isn’t “sexy,” but it is critical to making laws actually work.

For more information about CAFF’s policy work, visit our policy webpage.


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