CCOF’s proposal to add an Organic Transition Option to the California Healthy Soils Program was stymied on October 15 by the panel that advises the secretary of food and agriculture on the program. Instead, the panel approved a recently submitted recommendation from the California Farm Bureau Federation to establish a new program that would provide funding for farm planning.
Due to the strain on the state’s budget caused by the pandemic, there currently is no funding for the Healthy Soils Program. If CCOF’s proposed Organic Transition Option, originally presented to the panel in January, had been OK’d, the next round of Healthy Soils funding would have included an option for growers to apply for a modest stipend to assist them with the cost of developing an Organic System Plan during the course of the three-year Healthy Soils grant.
CCOF proposed an Organic Transition Option as a good match with Healthy Soils because organic is a federally regulated and annually verified management system that requires growers to use soil-building practices that have been shown in numerous scientific studies to build soil organic matter, sequester carbon, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Organic Transition Option would offset some of the costs growers face when undergoing the three-year organic transition and make organic certification more accessible to beginning and under-resourced farmers and ranchers. Also, it would increase the likelihood that growers continue using healthy soils practices after the term of the grant and would generate environmental, economic, and public health benefits.
Instead, the panel voted to create a new Climate Smart Agriculture program that would help growers develop any of an assortment of plans, including an Organic System Plan, that provide carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction benefits. Other types of plans that may be included in the program include the Carbon Cycle Institute’s Carbon Farm Planning and the Xerces Society’s Bee Better pollinator-friendly certification.
CDFA staff stated that establishing the new program will take approximately a year. CCOF will continue to advocate for including support for growers who want to transition to organic and for sufficient funding for the new program to be readily accessible to beginning and under- resourced growers.