Newsom’s proposed budget doubles down on climate, food and agriculture

Governor Newsom just came out Budget 2022-23 the proposal rightly recognizes the profound impact of climate change on our state’s food and agriculture system and the need for significant investment to ensure that it is resilient, healthy and equitable.

Sunchoke plants growing at the LA Green Grounds Teaching Garden in South Los Angeles, California on July 14, 2020.

Los Angeles Green Grounds, CC-BY 4.0

This budget picks up where the 2021 budget has stopped, providing a substantial new influx of resources for programs that help our farmers and ranchers transition to climate-smart agricultural practices. It also includes significant funding to create new markets for climate-friendly and historically underserved producers through California’s new Farm to School program, a program that helps bring healthier food to the kids who need it most. The budget proposes in particular:

  • $85 million for the state’s popular Healthy Soils Program, which provides grants to farmers and ranchers to use practices that boost soil health.
  • $20 million to bolster the National Water Efficiency and Improvement Program, which provides grants to farmers to install and/or upgrade more water-efficient irrigation systems.
  • $15 million to protect and build pollinator habitats.
  • $22 million for technical assistance and conservation management plans, including plans to help farmers transition to organic farming.
  • $450 million over three years to fund school kitchen upgrades that will allow schools to prepare local, minimally processed foods.
  • $33 million for expansion of the Farm to School program, including $3 million for staffing and $30 million in additional grants.

Through these investments in school food programs, the Newsom administration is making public schools key markets for farmers and ranchers using climate-smart practices. California Farm to School Program, first piloted in 2020, encourages schools to buy from certified organic producers, those transitioning to organic, those participating in the Healthy Soils program, and more. Unfortunately, even with almost half a million dollars proposed over three years, this investment does not cover the entire need. UC Berkeley researchers estimate that CA should invest nearly $6 billion in schools across the state to make the necessary upgrades that allow the kitchen to scratch.

We hope that this proposed budget allocation will be the start of a long-term investment plan that schools can rely on to upgrade outdated facilities. These resources would serve as a critical intervention if California is to realize the full potential of our Farm to School program to create markets for climate-smart agriculture and change the trajectory of the school lunch experience for more than six million students. .

A group of children harvesting cucumbers, squash and peppers from a garden at their school to share with those in need in the community.

State Farm via Flickr, CC-BY 4.0

Our food and agriculture system is broader than on-farm practices and markets, and includes agricultural workers and the infrastructure of regional food systems that move food from fields to plates. In last year’s budget, the Governor allocated a whole chapter to sustainable agriculture and included funds for agricultural workers and regional food systems infrastructure. Unfortunately, this year’s budget proposal does not include these critical elements. If California wants to turn agriculture into a climate solution and help the sector be carbon neutral by 2045, we must transitioning our entire food supply chain–from production to processing, including transport, distribution and consumption. We will address these food system budget gaps in our advocacy this coming year.

The budget proposal also includes $382 million for nature-based solutions that “create economic opportunities in nature-based sectors such as agriculture” and an additional $768 million (a carryover from the budget of the last year) to help implement state strategies, including the climate-smart strategy. While these allocations represent the substantial financial investments needed to scale up climate solutions on natural and working lands, the lack of detail provided for these funding pots leaves us with more questions than answers. For example, how will the governor’s office ensure that money is not spent on subsidizing industrial farming practices such as monoculture and increase production of water-thirsty crops, especially as the state prepares for future droughts? How will the state make farmland more affordable for the next generation of producers while ensuring that money is not redirected to already wealthy landowners? How can a biological transition program work in California? The NRDC has submitted several rounds of public comments asking and answering these questions, and we will continue to advocate for guardrails as the budget is negotiated.

Cover crops in an almond orchard at Mota Ranch in Livingston, California

The governor has shown that California is taking the climate crisis seriously with the proposed budget. The final budget – which will be passed later this summer – must include essential safeguards for funding related to natural and working lands while encouraging agencies to work together to deploy funds to maximize benefits. This coordination will be critical as the state implements the Climate Smart strategy and 30×30 conservation efforts and as the California Air Resources Board updates the framework plan to achieve California’s 2045 carbon neutral goal.

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