State dollars can help agriculture, but new regulatory proposals get more attention
The Newsom administration has proposed new programs that could ease reporting requirements for farmers, help farmers adapt to emerging drought conditions and provide technical assistance to disadvantaged farmers. But administration officials have faced skepticism from lawmakers in recent legislative hearings on the budget as well as strong industry opposition over a costly increase royalties collected on sales of pesticides.
“There are regulations in addition to regulations in addition to regulations,” said Republican Senator Brian Dahle (above), who also runs a seed and trucking company in Lassen County, in a hearing of the budget subcommittee last week. “I need more details on how you are going to make it easier for me to remain a family farm in California.”
Dahle was specifically discussing a proposal to streamline regulatory reporting for farmers into a central hub of various CalEPA and CDFA programs. Dahle pointed to the state government’s appalling record in solving computer problems, especially with billions of dollars recently lost to employment department fraud. The Office of the Non-partisan Legislative Analyst (LAO) has recommended lawmakers reject the administration’s proposal, arguing that while it has the merit of easing the burden on agriculture, it does not offer a public benefit broad enough to justify $ 6 million in taxpayer funding. Dahle was also concerned about escalating costs.
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross defended the proposal, arguing that it would “improve our customer service and make life a little easier for the state’s farming communities,” especially for small farmers and farmers. breeders. Ross said the State Water Resources Control Board looks forward to working with the CDFA on a preliminary needs assessment as the agency balances regulatory oversight for the irrigated land and CV-SALT programs, among others.
The administration is also committed to supporting farmers through a low-interest loan program for emerging green technologies known to the Climate Catalyst Fund, which would be managed by the governor’s business office. But the idea has been criticized for proposing to fund climate-smart projects such as dairy digesters and alternative manure management practices through loans rather than incentive grants that lawmakers approved in the process. negotiations with the Jerry Brown administration and agricultural interests.
Newsom administration first proposed the fund in early 2020, but generally abandoned it as the pandemic created new budget uncertainty. This year’s proposal has been reduced from $ 1 billion to just $ 50 million for agricultural programs and, in a separate proposal, an additional $ 49 million for wildfire resilience programs. North Coast Senator Mike McGuire pointed out that agriculture funding is less than half of what the Brown administration provided to methane reduction subsidy programs in the first year alone. He called it a broken commitment to dairy farmers in his region.
“[The Newsom administration is] try to sell [the Climate Catalyst Fund] like that is the best new thing for [farmers]McGuire said. “This state promised small family dairy farmers that we would help them make the transition to be able to fight climate change.”
He argued that the administration did not consult farmers in his area in advance.
“It’s incredibly frustrating and a little dull,” McGuire added.
California Farm Bureau policy advocate Taylor Roschen has urged lawmakers to consider stand-alone funding for methane reduction programs, arguing that dairy and livestock producers cannot outdo themselves with more loans.
The administration is also looking to fill incentive grants for on-farm water efficiency projects that were lost during the pandemic, with $ 40 million split between the current budget and the next cycle starting in July. LAO recommended not to apply the proposed advance allowance, which was pushed back by lawmakers.
“We are currently broken as an economy, and speed will be our friend,” said Senator Henry Stern of Canoga Park. “If we need to get the farmers back on their feet or prepare for this drought season now, that’s what worries me the most.”
Stern said the money could help farmers adjust to the law on sustainable groundwater management. The early action would allow groundwater recharge projects to be completed before the rains next winter, according to Ross.
The administration also garnered broad support for a $ 6 million proposal on technical assistance grants for socially disadvantaged farmers, who represent 20% of all farmers in the state as part of the agricultural census of the ‘USDA.
Lawmakers applauded a second year of financial support to help CDFA-affiliated fairs cover the cost of layoffs due to the fairground’s closure during the pandemic and lost event revenue. The proposal includes $ 60 million in total, with an additional $ 20 million unspent from last year. Yet McGuire stressed that “all fairs have crumbled,” not just the ones the state is forced to bail out. Many advocates insisted that county fairs be included in the funding.
The greatest frustrations during the hearings on the budgets of the CDFA and the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) were directed towards a proposal to replace the flat-rate assessment of the plant with a tiered structure based on the Risk Assessment. It would make about $ 45 million in revenue per year by taxing the sales of crop protection tools.
LAO said the proposal should be more aggressive, introduce it faster and with higher fees, which has won support from some liberal lawmakers.
Dahle, however, wanted to grant DPR the request for $ 8 million in the proposal to cover the ministry’s structural deficit, but called the review of the valuation wandering.
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“Now is not a good time to have this conversation,” Dahle said. “We are in a pandemic. We ask people to use these things to stay safe. And for now, are we going to change the whole concept of how we regulate and tax these products?
He pointed to a bottle of hand sanitizer next to McGuire, which he said is considered a toxic pesticide and would be subject to this “pandemic tax” as an unintended consequence of the proposal. Dahle added that this penalizes the farmer who has to rely on pesticides, while illegal pot cultivators in national forests destroy wildlife and ecosystems through the uncontrolled use of pesticides.
DPR director Val Dolcini acknowledged that the cannabis issue was the responsibility of the county sheriff’s services and defended the plant’s proposal as a reflection of the industry’s efforts to reduce use. of pesticides.
“The most dangerous and toxic pesticides, like fumigants and organophosphates and the like, are on the decline,” Dolcini said, referring to usage trends. “What we hope to do with this proposal is to speed up this transition.”
Michael Miiller, director of government relations for the California Association of Winegrape Growers, called the approach impractical, especially at a time of historic losses in the industry due to the pandemic and wildfires. Representing the Western Plant Health Association, Louie Brown pointed out that DPR’s budget has increased by 15% over the past five years and that assessment revenue and related funding would provide another 40% increase. Chemical manufacturing groups, meanwhile, opposed the provision because it would discourage existing efforts to create more sustainable products.
Roschen said this represented a significant political and financial change and that even organic growers would find it difficult to cope with higher and unavoidable production costs.
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