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By Brian Shobe 

 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is now accepting public comments on its draft Requests for Grant Applications (RGA) for the $6.75 million Healthy Soils Program (HSP), authorized by the Budget Act of 2016, and funded through California’s cap-and-trade program.

 

The Healthy Soils Program offers grants to farmers who take action to capture greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, in the soil to help combat climate change.

The Healthy Soils Program will be implemented under two separate components: 1) the $3.75 million Incentives Program and 2) the $3 million Demonstration Projects. For the Incentives Program, an estimated $3.75 million in competitive grant funding will be awarded to provide financial assistance for implementation of agricultural management practices that sequester soil carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

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In his budget released on January 10th, Governor Jerry Brown proposed on-going investments in climate smart agriculture programs, including the new Healthy Soils Program. The budget proposes to maintain current funding levels. However, there’s a catch. The funding will only become available if the legislature votes by two-thirds to extend the cap-and-trade program beyond the year 2020 when the program is set to expire. Why the catch?

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Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center

Soil health management is key to solving the climate change problems attributable to farming systems. One way to improve soil health is through adopting sustainable conservation systems that include conservation tillage (CT), cover cropping and other practices. CT describes a variety of cropping methods that involve leaving the previous year’s crop residue on top of the soil and planting the next crop right into it. To increase organic matter both above and below the soil surface, cover crops of a single or multiple plant species can also be grown between major crop rotations. Since crop residues are left on the soil surface and not tilled under, CT reduces the number of tractor passes needed, thereby cutting labor and fuel costs. Minimizing mechanical disturbance to the soil reduces erosion and runoff, increases water infiltration rate and retention, and increases carbon sequestration—all important strategies in climate change mitigation. Precision irrigation is another conservation practice that seeks to increase the efficiency of irrigation systems, by reducing pumping time and energy use.

Starting in 1998, Dr. Jeff Mitchell of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and a group of farmers, researchers, and agriculture professionals have been collaborating in California’s San Joaquin Valley to optimize the techniques and benefits of CT. Together, they formed the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) Center with the goal of increasing the adoption of conservation farming systems to over 50 percent of California’s cropping acreage by 2028. CASI conducts research, demonstrations, and outreach to growers, agencies, and environmental and consumer groups.

CASI’s mission is twofold: improve the livelihoods of California farmers while conserving and improving natural resources. Working directly with growers and public agency representatives allows CASI researchers to develop projects that reflect an understanding of whole-farm systems and the importance of combining conservation practices to optimize climate benefits.

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Amidst California’s ongoing drought, farms and ranches have taken a variety of steps to adjust their practices to cope with less water and sustained heat.

new report commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) finds that, as a result of these coping mechanisms, the agriculture sector consumes noticeably more electricity in drought years than in normal years. What’s more, the increase in electricity usage varies significantly by agricultural sub-sector.

A detailed look at this data reveals some of the opportunities to achieve even greater water and energy efficiencies so that agricultural producers can survive future droughts without suffering astronomical energy costs on top of all the other stresses a drought can bring.

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This year, California’s long-anticipated cap-and-trade program goes into effect. The ground was laid for the program in 2006 when Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, the country’s most comprehensive climate protection policy. Under the law, California will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

After much debate, legal challenge and a ballot measure attempting to stop it, beginning this year the first steps of implementing cap-and-trade will get underway with full implementation beginning in January 2013.

Under cap-and-trade the largest polluters of GHGs are required to “cap” and subsequently reduce their GHG emissions through a combination of renewable energy production, energy efficiency and related measures. Alternatively, polluters can partially meet their obligations by purchasing additional “allowances” (aka permits to emit GHGs) or by buying “offset credits” on the carbon market from other entities that are voluntarily reducing their GHG emissions.

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