The USDA has announced the availability of more than $330 million to help agricultural producers and organizations in the food supply chain recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative launched in March, and it includes $169.9 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the availability of $75 million for Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). This funding will aid in developing new markets for U.S. agricultural products, expand the specialty crop food sector, and promote the purchase of fruits and vegetables by lower-income consumers.
California has been allocated a combined $55.3 million in Farm Bill and COVID-19 relief money. CDFA will continue with its regular process for the 2021 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program . Once a plan has been fully developed to select projects for COVID-19 relief grant funding, that information will be shared.
CDFA’s Office of Farm to Fork is a current GusNIP recipient and will be eligible for additional funding under that program.
Join FAO North America and the Embassy of Denmark in the USA to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing farmers in ushering in a green transition towards more sustainable agriculture and food production.
The foundations of our food systems are being undermined, at least in part, because of the impact of management practices and land-use changes associated with food and agriculture. We are witnessing immense and irreversible biodiversity loss around the world. This alarming trend, combined with rapidly advancing climate change, water scarcity, and the degradation of vital natural resources, underscores the urgent need to transition towards more sustainable agricultural practices.
There is growing consensus that greening agriculture will require new science, as well as new and improved management policies and practices. However, not enough attention is paid to farmers and their enormous capacity to serve as agents of change in leading the shift towards a greener agriculture. This webinar will explore how farmers can and must play a lead role in transforming agricultural practices, highlighting experiences from Denmark and the United States, as well as global perspectives.
Welcome Vimlendra Sharan, Director, FAO North America
Keynote speakers Søren Søndergaard, Chairman, Danish Agriculture and Food Council Karen Ross, Secretary, Department of Food and Agriculture, California
Featured Speakers Anders Nørgaard, Dairy producer and Vice-Chairman, Holstebro-Struer Landboforening Derek Azevedo, Bowles Farming Company Doug Keesling, Keesling Farms & XRG Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director, Climate and Environment Division, FAO Thomas Batchelor, Global VP of Bioagriculture, Novozymes North America Martien Van Nieuwkoop, Global Director, Agriculture and Food, World Bank
Co-Moderators Troels Mandel Vensild, Minister Counselor – Food, Ag & Fisheries, Embassy of Denmark Thomas Pesek, FAO North America
Last summer, veteran organic farmer Scott Park was bewildered when he surveyed his vast tomato, corn, and sunflower fields. Before planting the crops on 350 acres he had radically cut down on tilling the soil, planted cover crops twice, and let goats graze the land. And he was sure he’d see excellent yields.
The undisturbed soil was loaded with earthworms, but the crops grew sluggishly and didn’t produce enough fruit. Park lost almost half of his yields—and over half a million dollars.
“We thought we were going to cut a fat hog,” said Park, whose farm lies 50 miles northwest of Sacramento in California’s Central Valley. “But the combination of no-till and grazing kicked me in the teeth.”
Though surprising, the result was part of a critical experiment that Park plans to replicate again—this time, on a smaller plot on his 1,700-acre farm: Because there’s more at stake than his own profit.
Two growing seasons into the California experiment, Park and other farmers have faced an array of challenges. Some have been economically painful, while others have led to promising results. And yet, if the farmers can get past the hurdles presenting themselves in these early years, their efforts could catalyze a massive shift to reduced tillage—and a new understanding of soil health—in the organic industry in California and nationwide. And because no-till is held up as a central tenent of regenerative agriculture, it could also be seen as a boon for farmers hoping to take part in the carbon markets the Biden administration has put forward in response to climate change.
“When soil transitions to a no-till system, yield reduction is usually a temporary thing,” said Cynthia Daley, a professor at Chico State who is involved in the project. “These farmers see the benefit of going into no-till, but they are trying to find a way to get there that doesn’t result in a negative economic impact in the long run. Their dedication is incredible.”
A broad array of organizations from across California’s agricultural and environmental landscape today announced a working coalition to address their shared commitment to the health of wild and managed pollinators.
The Coalition is focusing on increasing the value working lands provide to our environment, to benefit biodiversity and farmers alike. The California Pollinator Coalition, convened by Pollinator Partnership, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Almond Board of California, includes more than twenty organizations–representing the large majority of California’s crop and range land–pledging to increase habitat for pollinators on working lands.
Together, the goal is to increase collaboration between agriculture and conservation groups for the benefit of biodiversity and food production. The result will be on-the-ground improvements, technical guidance, funded research, documentation of relevant case studies, and tracked progress toward increasing healthier pollinator habitats.
Achieving this bee friendly goal is laden with benefits for farmers and the environment in California, increasing biodiversity and sequestering more carbon in the soil.
The Coalition also hopes its success will serve as a model for even more collaboration among interests who have not always been aligned, but who are willing to come together in partnership to confront common challenges.
“What we are doing in California is acknowledging the urgency to address the critical issue of protecting all pollinators, including native and managed species,” said Laurie Davies Adams, President and CEO of Pollinator Partnership. “Agriculture and conservation must work together to achieve this goal, especially when we will be facing many of the same issues –increasing temperatures, erratic and unpredictable weather, fires, drought, soil depletion, and more. The outcome will not be a tidy report that sits on a shelf, but rather a metric of acres, projects, and species added to the landscape while agriculture continues to profitably feed the nation.”
The collective land represented by coalition members will provide the critical mass to address habitat on an unprecedented scale, for the benefit of beneficial insects, such as bees, butterflies, beetles, wasps, moths and more. California is home to more than 1,600 native bees and hundreds of other species of pollinating insects. Globally, pollinators provide service to more than 180,000 different plant species, more than 1,200 crops, and are responsible for producing an estimated one out of every three bites of food. They sustain our ecosystems and support natural resources, all while adding $217 billion to the global economy each year.
But pollinator populations are declining and often suffer from the same challenges as California’s agriculture. The Coalition will work together on a variety of fronts to support pollinators:
•Preparing farmer-friendly guidance to buildand maintainpollinator habitat on farms and ranches
•Promoting voluntary, incentive-based habitat establishment projects and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices
*Conducting research and disseminating relevant science
•Monitoring outcomes (adoption rates and effectiveness of practices)
“Collaborative action can mitigate risks to California’s pollinators, and that’s exactly why this coalition has come together,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture. “We need urgent action, yet the first step in the process is building trust that encourages, enables, and enhances the result. The California Pollinator Coalition is a big step forward in a journey of grower and conservation groups voluntarily demonstrating leadership.”
“This will not be an easy or quick fix,” said Josette Lewis, Chief Scientific Officer of the Almond Board of California. “It will require a robust and sustained effort, but we are determined to be part of the solution. Almond growers and many other farmers depend on pollinators to produce a crop and pollinators depend on us to provide safe habitat. Working lands can and should be part of the solution.”
“Farm Bureau supports voluntary, farmer-friendly efforts to improve habitat for native pollinators, and we have long advocated improved research on pollinator health,” said Jamie Johansson, President of the California Farm Bureau. “We will work with the coalition for the benefit of native pollinators and managed bees, and to assure stability for the domestic bee business.”
“Climate change will affect the wildlife of California and the way we grow food in many ways,” said Dan Kaiser, director of conservation at Environmental Defense Fund. “The best chance for biodiversity and farms to thrive is to rebuild the natural infrastructure that supports pollinators, soil health and water resilience throughout the Central Valley. This coalition will promote robust research and guidance to support a more resilient and biodiverse agricultural landscape.”
While just beginning its work, the Coalition is catalyzing new collaborations and continuing to recruit partners who understand the urgency and share the common goal of supporting both the health of pollinators and agriculture. Current California Pollinator Coalition membership includes:
Agricultural Council of California
Almond Alliance of California
Almond Board of California
California Alfalfa and Forage Association
California Association of Pest Control Advisers
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
California Cattlemen’s Association
California Citrus Mutual
California Department of Food and Agriculture
California Farm Bureau Federation
California State Beekeepers Association
California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance
Environmental Defense Fund
Monarch Joint Venture
Project Apis m.
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service of California
Dr. Neal Williams, University of California, Davis
About the California Pollinator Coalition — The California Pollinator Coalition, convened by Pollinator Partnership, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Almond Board of California, is made up of a diverse group of agricultural and environmental organizations with the shared goal of providing enhanced habitat for pollinators. The Coalition and its members have pledged to increase habitat for pollinators on working lands. Additionally, the group plans to promote research and track its progress toward healthy and abundant habitats.
As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a constituent update today—FDA Takes Two Important Steps to Advance the Safety of Leafy Greens—farmers, researchers and regulators are urged to collaborate on many fronts to understand and prevent foodborne outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections in the United States with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens.
The FDA’s Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan outlines a number of progressive food safety initiatives. California partners are working with the FDA on several efforts within this action plan – outlined in a California Initiatives Roadmap – to address knowledge gaps, engage in prevention measures, and conduct response activities. One research study the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is helping coordinate in this effort is a California Longitudinal Study (CALS), led by the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the UC Davis Western Center for Food Safety, and an industry advisory group.
CALS is a multi-year study that is seeking farmers and ranchers along California’s Central Coast to allow researchers to collect and examine samples from the environment — including adjacent land, well and surface waters, and soil inputs that include compost, dust and animal fecal samples. This longitudinal approach serves as a model to offer an adaptive research strategy, perform research on a large geographic area to better understand underlying causes of contamination in the production environment, and provide a scientific basis for preventive recommendations.
To encourage participation in the CALS study, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross released a letter to industry partners, saying: “Food safety is a shared responsibility. I appreciate those who have been leaders for their industry – early adopters who have come forward and are working to find solutions to a recurring problem by collaborating with the nation’s best scientists. It shows a commitment to food safety and California agriculture. However, greater participation is needed and therefore I request your engagement so we can move swiftly, with intention, to help ensure California’s essential food safety standards are known, implemented, and met. … I respectfully ask that you engage in the CALS project in a way that works for you and your operation.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announces FSA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) signup is reopened as of April 5, 2021, as part of the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Farmers and ranchers will have at least 60 days to apply or make modifications to existing CFAP 2 applications.
FSA also announces the availability of $2 million to establish partnerships with organizations to provide outreach and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The funding was made possible by USDA’s new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, an effort to distribute resources more broadly and to put greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers impacted by the pandemic.
Reopening of CFAP 2 CFAP 2 provides financial assistance that gives producers the ability to absorb increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible commodities include specialty crops, livestock, dairy, row crops, aquaculture, floriculture and nursery crops. The initial CFAP 2 signup ended on Dec. 11, 2020, but USDA is reopening sign-up for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days beginning today. Visit farmers.gov/cfap for details on all eligible commodities, producer eligibility, payment limitations and structure and additional program resources.
Producers have multiple options to apply for CFAP 2, including through an online application portal and by working directly with the FSA office at their local USDA Service Center. Customers seeking one-on-one support with the CFAP 2 application process can call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to offer assistance. This is a recommended first step before a producer engages with the team at the FSA county office.
Additional CFAP Actions
USDA will also finalize routine decisions and minor formula adjustments on applications and begin processing payments for certain applications filed as part of the CFAP Additional Assistance. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted December 2020 requires FSA to make certain payments to producers according to a mandated formula.
Cooperative Agreements The cooperative agreements will support participation in programs offered by FSA, including those that are part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Interested organizations must submit proposals by May 5, 2021.
Outreach and technical assistance cooperative agreements support projects that:
Increase access and participation of socially disadvantaged applicants in FSA programs and services.
Improve technical assistance for socially disadvantaged applicants related to county committees focused on urban agriculture as well as FSA programs, including loan, disaster assistance, conservation and safety-net programs.
FSA will prioritize review of proposals that support outreach on CFAP 2. To ensure effective outreach during the signup period for CFAP 2, these applications will be reviewed immediately following the submission deadline for prioritized approval and project initiation.
This funding opportunity is available to non-profits having a 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service (other than institutions of higher education), Federally recognized Native American tribal governments, Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments), and public and state-controlled institutions of higher education, including 1890 land grant institutions and 1994 tribal land-grant colleges and universities.
Awards will range from $20,000 to $99,999 for a duration between six months and one year. Applications focusing primarily on CFAP 2 will be expedited. For other proposals, FSA anticipates announcing or notifying successful and unsuccessful applicants by June 20, 2021 and expects to have Federal awards in place by September 1, 2021.
Secretary Ross: “This is about helping to solve the biggest challenge of our time. Nothing’s more rewarding than to be able to grow food and feed people, but to be able to do this and solve these problems and to be able to improve not only nutrition for people, but the health of our planet… who wouldn’t want to be in agriculture?”
Interview by Amy Mayer
During February, CDFA’s Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation held a series of meetings with farmers and ranchers to get their input on ways to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve biodiversity to help meet California’s climate goals. CDFA released a preliminary report from those sessions Tuesday (March 30). Secretary Karen Ross spoke with Agri-Pulse about those meetings and how ag is contributing to the state’s climate goals.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
There were six listening sessions, two each for the annual, perennial, and livestock sectors. They were organized so people came together for an initial meeting and then reconvene a second time a few days later. How did your office decide that was the approach you wanted to take?
The director of our office, Amrith Gunasekara, has had a lot of experience and interaction with farmers and ranchers. He learned this from our work early on in climate change, going back to 2012, when we convened the Climate Change Consortium for Specialty Crops. Based on his experiences of doing that first Consortium report and so many other (reports) that we’ve done around potentially contentious issues, we really wanted to use the first convening to get everyone on that same basis of understanding: here’s what we already have, we’re looking for things to add on to or adjust to what’s in existence. And then, when people walk away after that initial discussion, they go home and think about it. So it seemed to make sense to bring (groups back) together.
What are some takeaways from those meetings?
The one thing that came through loud and clear is “we’re so over regulated, please don’t let these things turn into other mandates.” Our secret sauce is voluntary practices, technical assistance, and incentive grants. That’s how we’ve gotten so many people into this. Adding demonstration projects really helps for that farmer-to-farmer learning (because) they have very candid conversations. There are a lot of really interesting thoughts about region-specific needs and practices. In a big diverse state like California, with so many different microclimates and so many soils, we have to be very mindful that it is not a one-size fits all.
I wanted to ask you about specifically some of the climate smart projects that have been instituted. Are there are any that stand out for you as most practical to be replicated on the widest scale?
Because it was the first program and it was rolled out in response to drought, our State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, SWEEP. One of the things that I think has made our programs work is we don’t say “here is what you must do.” It’s a menu for you to pick what works best for your operation and where you are in this continuum of sustainability.
I have been so impressed and pleased by the momentum behind Healthy Soils. It’s interesting because we have like 27 practices that you could go with but cover crops, hedgerows—which is exciting for our pollinator friends—mulching and compost are the top four. And then kudos to our dairy families, we did one pilot program year and did 12 dairy digesters. By the time of sign up, of course, a mandate on methane reduction helped pique interest. A dairy digester is like a mini utility that you’re operating, so allowing the partnership of dairy farmers with developers has been very positive.
Do you think because there’s been so much adoption by dairy farmers to the digesters that that might lead more methane gas infrastructure?
That has already started and I think that will accelerate and especially if we focus on just trucking. If we could convert major fleets that tend to fill I-5 and I-99 24/7/365 days out of the year we would have an immediate positive impact on the air quality in the Central Valley. The developers are big believers in cow power, and even if, as we see this move towards zero emission vehicles, we went all electrification in the grid, we could still use the dairy digesters for generating that renewable electricity so that we could have freeways lined with the electrical charging stations with cow power. I get excited about cow poop.
Do you think agricultural equipment will evolve to meet the zero emissions mandate, or do you think agriculture is going to head in the direction of trying to get some exemptions?
We will work hard to meet the mandate for the years in which they’re set. This is providing a very strong market signal and so just given my conversations, especially with the major farm equipment manufacturers, some of this stuff could be near term, meaning maybe in 15 years, some of it maybe less. There’s work that’s happening on it and oftentimes as policy signals are sent that work will accelerate. But we feel that with having to meet this “technically and economically feasible” (expectation), we’re going to keep moving as quickly as we can on this pathway. But in the meantime, being able to reduce the carbon intensity of whatever it is that fuels that piece of equipment is going to be extremely important.
California is moving ahead with a lot of things that are still not on the agenda in other ag states. How are you seeing other states respond to what California ag is doing in terms of climate change?
I’m always mindful that it’s different farming here because we are specialty crops, we are farming practically every day of the year. In dairy and dairy efficiencies, California has been a leader and we’ve seen how rapidly dairy farming across the country has embraced a lot of the efficient practices that they have, and that was even before climate (became a priority). I see the cattle sector really providing strong leadership from California. Understanding the role of grazing, whether it’s for wildfire or for habitat and retaining the biodiversity that’s on rangeland, has really taken off across the country. […] On climate, I’m excited to be part of a national conversation and to see how much momentum in the last couple of years has really gone from not wanting to talk about climate change at all to let’s all work together because it’s going to take collaboration. And it cannot just be farmers and ranchers. we can lead, and it’s important that we have that strong voice, but we need the entire supply chain in this with us. We tend to silo ourselves, even within that supply chain, and we can’t afford to do that. The brand names have set some of their sustainability or climate goals, and thought it was easy to say, “Oh, this is what we want to buy from you.” And they’re much more engaged (now) and understand how complex it is, that there are trade offs and that there are unforeseen incidents and risks that a farmer has to deal with, and they shouldn’t have to do that all alone.
As the federal government focuses more attention on climate policy, how much is USDA reaching out to the states, or to California specifically, to try to make sure that what comes down from USDA aligns with what states are prioritizing?
I was really thrilled to see that they announced that they’re seeking comments on farmer- and rancher- lead solutions, so that’s a golden opportunity. We really are excited to encourage all California ag groups, as well as our sister agencies, to weigh in with comments. It’s great that before they actually went through some sort of “here’s our idea of what this should look like,” they’re starting with “let’s see what’s out there.”
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And let’s face it, we built our climate smart programs on research that’s been happening at USDA for years and on the work that Secretary Vilsack and the Obama Administration did when they came up with identifying the building blocks for climate smart agriculture. Those definitions and that way of doing organizational thinking made it much easier for us to go into this space and use terminology that was already out there, not only nationally, but internationally. That’s important work that they’ve done and we were able to just step on to that and build upon it.
There’s starting to be a lot more talk about ecosystem services markets, about a carbon bank or some kind of payment for carbon sequestration. What’s the situation here in California, and what’s the potential of that?
Well, clearly there’s the interest and with our cap-and-trade program it’s been primarily about the wisdom, or not, of pursuing an offset, which is almost a 10-year process. The verification process is expensive and the dollars generated are so minimal. One of our first ones was in rice and it just didn’t pan out the way people had hoped or expected it to. There’s huge interest in markets and we’d love to see that the consumer would help share this wonderful public benefit of us being the ones who manage it and take responsibility for it. By the same token, we want to make sure that it’s real. It could easily fall into a greenwashing and so we want to make sure there’s integrity in how this is done. I’ll just be blunt: I don’t want to see a brand taking a bunch of credit for what a farmer’s doing for them to meet their goals without some payment and some verification so both of them have comfort that this is real, we stand behind it, the practices are on the ground, sequestration is happening. We’ve been talking about it for 15 years and we’re much closer than we’ve ever been.
Any final thoughts?
This is about helping to solve the biggest challenge of our time. Nothing’s more rewarding than to be able to grow food and feed people, but to be able to do this and solve these problems and to be able to improve not only nutrition for people, but the health of our planet… who wouldn’t want to be in agriculture?