Policy Update

Policy updates from our recent e-newsletters:

• 2017 Jun 16 | June Policy Update
2017 Apr 25 | April Policy Update
2017 Feb 24 | Healthy Soils and Compost – The Unsexy Issue

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June Policy Update

June 16, 2017

by Pete Price, CAFF Board Member

The 2017 legislative calendar officially reached its halfway point in early June with the deadline for bills to pass their house of origin. Only two of the bills on CAFF’s list of top bills failed to move to the second house: a bill to re-establish and reform the Williamson Act (SB 435) and one to exempt nonprofit organization farm apprenticeships from farm contractor rules (AB 1503). The following describes the current status of CAFF’s target bills and provides background pertinent to CAFF.

 

Farmland Protection/Climate Smart Farming

SB 5 (de Leon) Natural Resources Bond/Climate Smart Farming

Places on the June 2018 ballot the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act, which, if approved by voters, will authorize the issuance of $3.5 billion in general obligation bonds to fund protection of parks and open space, urban streams and rivers, state land conservancies, wildlife habitat and coastal land and waters, including $468 million to fund climate adaptation and habitat resiliency projects.

As introduced, SB 5 did not include any funds earmarked for climate smart farming. CAFF and CalCAN successfully lobbied the Legislature and the bill was amended to include $40 million to “develop and implement innovative farm and ranch management practices,” and of that amount, $15 million is earmarked for CDFA to “promote practices on farms and ranches that improve agricultural and open-space soil health, carbon soil sequestration, erosion control, water quality, and water retention.”   Much of this funding is expected to go to two programs CAFF has helped to create: the Healthy Soils program and State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP).   CAFF Supports. Passed Senate 31-9

 

SB 732 (Stern) Farmland Protection

Creates an incentive for a city or count to include an agricultural land component to the open space element of its general plan, by requiring the Dept. of Conservation top give priority, when awarding grants or bond proceeds, to cities and counties that adopt an ag land component that identifies all ag lands within the jurisdiction, establishes a comprehensive set of goals, policies and objectives to support he long-term protection of ag land, and adopts a set of feasible implementation measures to carry out those goals and policies.

Senator Stern was newly elected last November and, though from urban Los Angeles, has said he wants to make farmland protection one of his signature issues. CAFF,CalCAN, American Farmland Trust and others are actively working with him on this important bill. CAFF Supports. Passed Senate 28-11

 

AB 465 (Ting) Urban Agriculture

Extends from 2019 to 2029 the authority of a local govt to restrict land uses for small-scale ag, pursuant to the Urban Ag Incentive Zones Act, which authorizes a city or county and a landowner to enter into a contract to allow the use of vacant, unimproved, or otherwise blighted lands for small-scale production of agricultural crops and animal husbandry in exchange for a tax break. The bill also expands the program by allowing its use in any city with a population of at least 50,000, instead of the current 250,000, and by allowing its use on multiple contiguous properties. CAFF supported the original law in 2013. CAFF Supports. Passed Assembly 71-1

 

AB 1433 (Wood) Climate Smart Farming

As introduced, AB 1433 required that 20% of all funds generated by the state’s cap-and-trade auction be deposited in a new account (the Climate Adaptation and Resilience Based on Nature Account) at the Wildlife Conservation Board to protect and improve climate adaptation and resilience on natural lands, including forests, rangeland and wetlands.

The 20% earmark was rather audacious, and the Assembly Appropriations Committee, not surprisingly, deleted it, instead leaving annual appropriation decisions to the Legislature and Governor in the annual budget process. CAFF and CalCAN did, however, get the bill expanded to apply to farmland as well as natural lands, creating another funding source to support climate smart farming projects.   CAFF Supports. Passed Assembly 62-12

 

SB 435 (Dodd) Williamson Act

Restored Williamson Act subventions to local governments that enter into farmland conservation contracts with landowners, but with reforms designed to encourage robust local farmland protection policies and programs. Specifically, the bill restored subventions at only half their previous level ($0.50 instead of $1.00/acre for non-prime ag land, $2.50 instead of $5.00 for prime ag land, and $4.00 instead of $8.00 for land within 3 miles of the boundaries of a city’s sphere of influence), but makes the other half of funding available to a city or county that does specified things, including adopting an acreage threshold above which farmland conversion is deemed to have a significant effect on the environment and require mitigation; adopting specific mitigation measures; addressing ag land use and conservation in its general plan; and adopting a righto farm ordinance. Unfortunately, the Senate Appropriations Committee estimated annual state budget costs of up to $43 million and held the bill in committee. CAFF Supported. Held in Senate Appropriations Committee

 

Marketing/Nutrition/Buy (California)

AB 822 (Caballero) Sale of CA produce

Requires state institutions, excluding schools and universities, to buy CA-grown produce when bid price is within 5% of out-of-state produce. Assembly Appropriations Committee estimated annual state costs of only $1.5 – $2 million. The bill has bi-partisan support. CAFF Supports. Passed Assembly 76-0

 

SB 782 (Skinner) CA Grown School Meals

Creates the California-Grown Fresh School Meals Grant Program at CDFA to encourage the purchase of California-grown food by schools and expand the number of freshly prepared school meals that use California-grown ingredients. CAFF currently has a “Support if Amended” position, based on concerns that the grants could provide a windfall benefit to schools to the extent they were already buying CA-grown produce and that the bill does not promote the purchase of locally produced food where feasible.

The bill has bi-partisan support in the Legislature and CAFF staff strongly support the bill because of the support it can give to farm to school programs. CAFF should consider whether to change its position to Support.

CAFF Supports if Amended. Passed Senate 33-0

 

Water

AB 277 (Mathis) Safe Drinking Water

Allows existing State Drinking Water Revolving Fund to be used to improve rural and small water systems, including repairing and replacing existing groundwater wells. Makes individual residences and small water systems with fewer than 15 service connections eligible for grants.

AB 277 is an outgrowth of laws enacted in recent years declaring that all persons have a “human right to water.” Existing state grant programs are predominantly limited to publicly owned water infrastructure and facilities. AB 277 expands grants individual homes and “small water systems” with fewer than 15 connections, which are common in rural areas. Small water systems have no ability to pay for system improvements through rate increases. CAFF Supports. Passed Assembly 77-0

 

AB 472 (Frazier) Water Transfers/Waterfowl Habitat

When farmers idle land in order to transfer water and leave the land fallow, it affects waterfowl and other wildlife. Although existing law says that farmland owners should be encouraged to grow non-irrigated crops on such land for the benefit of waterfowl and wildlife, in practice the state often has required farmers to fallow the land lest the use of water undercut the purpose of the transfer and harm downstream ag users.

AB 472 changes the presumption by requiring the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife to allow non-irrigated cover crops or natural vegetation to remain on idled land unless it determines, based on peer-reviewed studies, that doing so would injure another water user. It also requires DFW to create an incentive program, which may include financial incentives, to encourage farmland owners who idle land for water transfers to cultivate crops or vegetation for bird habitat instead of leaving land fallow.   CAFF Supports. Passed Assembly 76-0

 

AB 1420 (Aguiar-Curry) Small Water Diversions

AB 1420 is that rare bill that has moved through the first house with no amendments and yet it actually does something. In fact it does something CAFF has been advocating for years: makes it much easier for farmers to increase water diversion in times of high stream flows for small domestic, irrigation or stock pond use in exchange for reduced diversions during low stream flows. Importantly, it also requires such diversions to be deemed in protection of the environment for CEQA purposes. The State Water Board has allowed this approach only on the North Coast, where it is supported by the wine industry. AB 1420 takes the program statewide. CAFF Supports. Passed Assembly 76-0

 

SB 252 (Dodd) New Well Drilling

Requires applicants for a new well permit in critically overdrafted basins to provide basic information about the proposed well and inform neighbors about their intent to build a new well. Also requires cities and counties in critically overdrafted basins to make new well permit applications public prior to approval and requires new wells to cease operation if found by a local groundwater agency to contribute to continued overdraft. Exempts small domestic wells, replacement wells and wells in cities and counties with ordinances that protect existing pumpers from increased overdraft.

SB 252 is modest compared to the bill that CAFF supported last year (SB 1317, Wolk), which would have prohibited drilling new or larger wells in critically overdrafted basins until local groundwater sustainability plans are adopted.   SB 1317 dies in the Assembly. SB 252 does not prohibit such well drilling, but only requires that information about the proposed well be made public. CAFF is the only agricultural organization in the state to support SB 252. CAFF Supports. Passed Senate 23-14

 

Social Justice

AB 1348 (Aguiar-Curry) Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

Requires CDFA to ensure that socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, defined as racial minorities and females, are included when food and agriculture laws, regulations and policies are developed, implemented and enforced. Requires the Secretary of Agriculture to create a position in the Secretary’s office to support these efforts. AB 1348 has received bi-partisan support. CAFF Supports. Passed Assembly 72-4

 

AB 1503 (Aguiar-Curry) Farm labor contractors

Prevented non-profit organizations from being designated a farm labor contractor when they operate a farm apprenticeship program.  The bill was sponsored by CAFF’s Yolo County neighbor, the Center for Land-Based Learning. Despite amendments to clarify that the non-profit organization was still subject to all other Labor Code requirements for employers, and the failure of the Assembly Appropriations Committee to identify any state costs , the bill was held in committee and is dead for the year. CAFF Supported. Held by author in Assembly Appropriations Committee

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

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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:

Water

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

Food

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.

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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.

Compost

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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