USDA Seeks Applications for Conservation Innovation Grants

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that applications are being accepted for up to $20 million in grants to facilitate the creation of new, innovative markets for carbon credits, providing additional revenue sources for producers to use to address natural resource conservation challenges. These grants are part of the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program, authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill.

“USDA has been a leader in supporting market-based solutions to improve water quality and reduce carbon pollution,” Secretary Vilsack said. “With this opportunity, we are supporting the next generation of projects that will help mature these markets and bring them to scale to benefit both producers and the environment.”

For 2015, approximately half of the $20 million is available for environmental markets and conservation finance projects that engage agricultural producers. In past years, CIG has helped fund the development of the basic infrastructure of these markets. This year, USDA, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking applications for projects that will build on these efforts by maturing and scaling markets and accelerating efforts to leverage private capital and investment in private lands conservation. Improved quantification tools, multi-resource crediting, and projects that substantively engage corporate or financial partners are the types of activities NRCS is pursuing.

As an example, USDA, though CIG, helped fund the development of the first interstate water quality trading program in the Ohio River Basin. Administered by the Electric Power Research Institute, in April, the program is holding its first public auction of water quality credits, generated by farmers in the basin. USDA also funded a project led by the Delta Institute that culminated in the generation and sale of nitrous oxide credits on corn fields in the Midwest. This project demonstrated that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced on cropland while maintaining corn yields.

USDA is also soliciting proposals for projects to stimulate natural resource improvements, including, but not limited to, improvements in water quantity, soil health, and wildlife habitat. Applications from this funding pool may also emphasize expected benefits to historically underserved producers, veterans, and organic producers. Applications in the fields of economics and sociology as they relate to natural resources are also being welcomed.

Under CIG, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds are used to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or nongovernmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals. The 2014 Farm Bill also included language that has led to some changes in this year’s CIG funding announcement. One change eliminates the requirement that half the applicant’s match be in cash. Another expands eligibility for the 10 percent set-aside provision for historically underserved producers.

As in prior years, NRCS will accept pre-proposals for initial review before inviting entities to submit full proposals. Pre-proposals are due Tuesday, February 24, 2015. To apply electronically, visit or contact a local NRCS office.

2016-05-31T19:30:33-07:00January 28th, 2015|

Agriculture Well-represented among GEELA Awards

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross joined colleagues from across state government this week to honor recipients of the annual Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards  or GEELA Awards.

The GEELA program is California’s highest environmental honor – recognizing individuals, organizations, and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made notable, voluntary contributions in conserving California’s precious resources; protecting and enhancing our environment; building public-private partnerships; and strengthening the state’s economy.

Secretary Ross was pleased to present awards to Parducci Wine Cellars, for its efforts to conserve and reclaim water; to the Lodi Winegrape Commission, for its rules for sustainable winegrowing; and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, for the development of metrics for water, energy, and nitrogen use, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Parducci Wine Cellars, over the course of 14 years, has come up with unique and innovative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle water at their winery. By using the surrounding landscape and natural ecosystems, Parducci has transformed a polluted pond into a bird sanctuary and created other recreational and habitat uses from its wastewater facility. In addition, the winery now recycles and cleans 100 percent of its wastewater and reuses it for irrigation, resulting in a 1.5 million gallon per year decrease in water usage even as production doubled. Parducci’s Water Reclamation System is proof that ecosystems can be valuable tools in creating efficient, cost-effective methods for water conservation that have tangible long-term environmental and economic benefits.

In 2005, the Lodi Winegrape Commission started California’s original sustainable winegrowing certification program. For their efforts, they were awarded a GEELA in 2006. Since their first year the program has expanded and evolved, and has established a reputation as a model certification program. The program grew from over 1,500 certified acres in 2006 to nearly 27,000 acres in 2013 while continuing to promote practices that enhance biodiversity, water and air quality, and soil health. Growth in the certification program allows for growers throughout the state to recognize the program’s value as a tool for implementing and codifying their practices that meet the triple bottom line of environmentally friendly practices, socially responsible business management and economic viability for maintaining vineyards for future generations.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) is a statewide sustainable winegrowing program introduced in 2002. CSWA was a recipient of a GEELA in 2004, and, after a major update to their program in 2006, they were also awarded a GEELA in 2010. They continued their trend of innovation after another update to their program in 2012, which includes online performance metrics for water, energy, nitrogen and greenhouse gas emissions, and a winery water guide for small wineries, in addition to new workshops and online tools focused on the results of a carbon footprint study on California wine. CSWA’s program has helped growers and vintners adopt sustainable practices that have improved efficiency and quality and conserved natural resources, reduced risks, and in some cases, reduced costs.

is administered by the California Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the Natural Resources Agency; the Department of Food and Agriculture; the State Transportation Agency; the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency; the Labor and Workforce Development Agency; and the Health and Human Services Agency.

2016-05-31T19:30:33-07:00January 27th, 2015|

New Farm Bill Resource Now Available to Help Farmers and Food Advocates Navigate USDA Programs

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) published a comprehensive digital guide to the key federal farm and food programs that support sustainable farm and food systems.  The Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs will help farmers and non-profit organizations navigate the numerous farm bill and other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that have been championed by NSAC.

“The Grassroots Guide will be a valuable resource for farmers as they look for opportunities and financing to grow their farms and help build a more sustainable farming system,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “The Guide is specifically targeted to the farming community and distills very technical federal policies and programs in a way that is accessible to farmers and consumers alike.”

The Grassroots Guide includes up-to-date information on conservation, credit, rural development, research, and food programs authorized in the farm bill and other pieces of federal legislation – including recent policy changes made in the 2014 Farm Bill.

This new resource details over 40 federal food and farm programs that provide funding to farmers and organizations for conservation assistance, farm real estate and operating loans, outreach to minority and veteran farmers, beginning farmer training programs, value-added enterprises, support for farmers markets and farm to school programs, and more.  The Guide is organized into the following topic areas:

  • Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
  • Conservation and Environment
  • Credit and Crop Insurance
  • Food Safety
  • Local and Regional Food Systems
  • Organic Production
  • Renewable Energy
  • Rural Development
  • Sustainable and Organic Research

For each program included, the Guide provides plain-language explanations of how the program works, who can utilize the program, examples of the program in action, step-by-step application instructions, additional resources, and a brief overview of the program’s history – including legislative and administrative changes and historical funding levels.

2016-05-31T19:32:15-07:00November 13th, 2014|

FY 2014 Conservation Innovation Grant National Awardee

California Dairy Research Foundation (CA) $73,000

Improving Conservation Practice Adoption and Nutrient Management Plan Implementation through Utilization of Adapted Decision Support Tree eLearning Methods

California is home to 1.8 million dairy cattle, over 80 percent of which reside in the state’s Central Valley, an area rich in agriculture and responsible for nearly 20 percent of the nation’s milk supply. Central Valley dairy farms produce much of the forage necessary to feed their cows by utilizing manure nutrients to grow crops year-round. Cow manure is an important renewable resource used to fertilize crops, replenish soil nutrients and enhance soil quality.

Utilizing manure effectively is paramount to sustainable dairying and agriculture, but has been regulated since 2007. Regulatory requirements include the maintenance and implementation of both waste management and nutrient management plans.

The industry’s regulatory and environmental success depends on individual dairy producer ability to identify and adopt conservation practices and implement superior nutrient management to protect scarce surface and ground water resources. Multiple potential challenges exist which may prevent full implementation of all aspects of nutrient management and available conservation practices within a given operation.

Barriers are most often site-specific and require individual assessment of current systems, equipment and practices to determine optimal farm solutions. This project will develop, field-test and demonstrate the use of an electronically available teaching and learning (eLearning) system as an innovative approach to conservation practice adoption and nutrient management implementation. A proven decision tree support system will be adapted into an eLearning format to enable individual farm nutrient management needs assessment.

Its guiding principles will be communicating scientifically-proven yet practical, cost-effective options at various nutrient management system critical control points (decision tree nodes) to assist producers in identifying site-specific solutions for full nutrient management plan implementation. 

2016-05-31T19:33:25-07:00September 16th, 2014|

Slant Well to Address Water Shortage Without Harming Environment

By Valerie King; National Driller*

History is unfolding along the coast of California, according to Dennis Williams, president of GEOSCIENCE Support Services Inc.

His groundwater consulting firm has designed something like 1,000 municipal water supply wells in almost 40 years. But those were typical wells, vertical wells. What he’s working on now he’s only done once before.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” he said, alluding to a well technology his firm is designing for California’s Monterey Peninsula. It’s called a slant well or subsurface intake, and while the technology has been used in Europe and tested in the United States, he says it’s still a very rare method.

“The evolution of the subsurface slant well technology,” as Williams calls it, is an outcome of California state regulators and environmental groups that prefer an environmentally friendly approach to desalination. Their goal is to avoid harming marine life like more traditional ocean pipelines tend to.

The slant well will be drilled close to the coastline at a diagonal and collect enough ocean water to produce about 100 million gallons of drinkable water daily.

That’s what California American Water hopes, according to Rich Svindland, vice president of engineering. California American Water is a subsidiary of American Water Works Company Inc., the largest publicly traded U.S. water and wastewater utility company. They proposed the idea after California ordered reductions to the Monterey Peninsula’s current water sources, a local river and aquifer that are expected to lose more than half of their current supply in the next decade.

“The idea is that we’re trying to launch a well field out under the ocean floor to basically ensure that we capture ocean water as opposed to inland ground freshwater,” Svindland said. The local groundwater basin he’s referring to is protected and cannot be exported to residents across the peninsula.

*This article was originally published in National Driller, Copyright 2014.  The entire article can be found at National Driller.

2016-05-31T19:33:27-07:00September 3rd, 2014|

Water Use in California – Analysis from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)

Source: Jeffrey Mount and Jay Lund, UC Davis, and Emma Freeman, PPIC

Water in California is shared across three main sectors. Statewide, average water use is roughly 50% environmental, 40% agricultural, and 10% urban. However, the percentage of water use by sector varies dramatically across regions and between wet and dry years. Some of the water used by each of these sectors returns to rivers and groundwater basins, and can be used again.

Environmental water use falls into four categories: water in rivers protected as “wild and scenic” under federal and state laws, water required for maintaining habitat within streams, water that supports wetlands within wildlife preserves, and water needed to maintain water quality for agricultural and urban use. Most water allocated to the environment does not affect other water uses.

More than half of California’s environmental water use occurs in rivers along the state’s north coast. These waters are largely isolated from major agricultural and urban areas and cannot be used for other purposes. In the rest of California where water is shared by all three sectors, environmental use is not dominant (33%, compared to 53% agricultural and 14% urban).

Agricultural water use is holding steady even while the economic value of farm production is growing. Approximately nine million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing roughly 80% of all human water use. Higher revenue perennial crops—nuts, grapes, and other fruit—have increased as a share of irrigated crop acreage (from 27% in 1998 to 32% in 2010 statewide, and from 33% to 40% in the southern Central Valley).

This shift, plus rising crop yields, has increased the value of farm output (from $16.3 billion of gross state product in 1998 to $22.3 billion in 2010, in 2010 dollars), thereby increasing the value of agricultural water used. But even as the agricultural economy is growing, the rest of the economy is growing faster. Today, farm production and food processing only generate about 2% of California’s gross state product, down from about 5% in the early 1960s.

Despite population growth, total urban water use is also holding steady. The San Francisco Bay and South Coast regions account for most urban water use in California. These regions rely heavily on water imported from other parts of the state. Roughly half of urban water use is for residential and commercial landscaping. Despite population growth and urban expansion, total urban water use has remained roughly constant over the past 20 years.

Per-capita water use has declined significantly—from 232 gallons per day in 1990 to 178 gallons per day in 2010—reflecting substantial efforts to reduce water use through pricing incentives and mandatory installation of water saving technologies like low-flow toilets and shower heads. Coastal regions use far less water per capita than inland regions—145 gallons per day compared with 276 gallons per day in 2010—largely because of less landscape watering.

The current drought exposes major water use challenges. In the Central Valley, where most agricultural water use occurs, the failure to manage groundwater sustainably limits its availability as a drought reserve. The increase in perennial crops—which need to be watered every year—has made the region even more vulnerable. In urban areas, the greatest potential for further water savings lies in reducing landscaping irrigation—a shift requiring behavioral changes, not just the adoption of new technology.

Finally, state and federal regulators must make tough decisions about how and when to allocate water to the environment during a drought. They are faced with balancing short-term economic impacts on urban and agricultural water users against long-term harm—even risk of extinction—of fish and wildlife.

2016-05-31T19:33:33-07:00August 11th, 2014|

Homeowners: Your Gardeners Need License to Apply Pesticides

Homeowners Urged To Make Sure Gardeners Who Apply Pesticides Have License

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is urging all homeowners to check that their maintenance gardener (landscaper) has a state maintenance gardening (MG) pest control business license from DPR if they are occasionally applying pesticides on their lawns. Homeowners can do so on the DPR website’s License and Certificate Holder List Page.

“Homeowners may not realize that maintenance gardeners are applying chemistry to their lawns,” says DPR director Brian Leahy. “We want to try and ensure they are doing so in a responsible manner.”

The license ensures that the person applying pesticides has been properly trained to use them on lawns and garden areas. If used properly, pesticides should not cause harm to humans or pets. However, improper use may result in illnesses or environmental problems.

Pesticides used on lawns and gardens may be washed to street storm drains and into local rivers, streams and even sensitive wetlands miles away. This may impact aquatic life.

“Your lawn may only be a small piece of land, but collectively, California lawns amount to many acres,” said Leahy. “Homeowners can play a significant role to reduce the amount of pesticide pollution (runoff) from lawns that are entering our waters through storm drains.”

Under California law, anyone who applies pesticides, even if it is only incidental to other maintenance gardening tasks, must have this DPR maintenance gardening pest control business license and be registered with the local county agricultural commissioner’s office.

In California, there are about 100,800 landscapers employed in the public and private sector who are responsible for maintaining homes, parks, golf courses, schools and plantings around malls, offices, restaurants and other locations.

Learn more about how your landscapers can obtain a certificate/ license at



2016-05-31T19:35:24-07:00June 19th, 2014|
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