Washington Policy Page

Sustainable Farms and Fields Grant Program

Dates:

Introduced in 2019
Re-introduced January 2020
Passed the House and Senate with amendments March 2020 Signed by Governor April 3, 2020
Effective date June 11, 2020

Legislation:

SB 5947/ HB 2095

Sponsor/s: 

Senator McCoy
Senator Schoesler
Senator Palumbo
Senator King
Senator Salomon
Senator Warnick
Representative Walsh
Representative Shewmake
Representative Dye
Representative Springer
Representative Shea
Representative Peterson
Representative Chapman
Representative Fitzgibbon
Representative Eslick
Representative Corry

Description:

The Bill was conceived as a means to help farmers become more profitable while achieving Washington’s climate action goals. It creates a grant program to incentivize farmers and ranchers to reduce fossil fuel inputs and increase sequestered carbon. 

The WA Department of Agriculture, in consultation with Washington State University, the State Conservation Commission, the NRCS, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources must create a system to estimate, measure, and verify outcomes for the sustainable farms and fields grant program. 

The Bill requires that 80% of the funds go directly to producers in the form of grants for farming processes that reduce emissions, increase organic matter, and build healthy soils. The remaining funding covers educational campaigns and technical assistance to grant applicants.

Definitions:

Carbon dioxide equivalent emission

“A metric measure used to compare the emission impacts from various greenhouse gases based on their relative radiative forcing effect over a specified period of time compared to carbon dioxide emissions.”

Carbon dioxide equivalent impact

“A metric measure of the cumulative radiative forcing impacts of both carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and the radiative forcing benefits of carbon storage.”

Stated Goals:

  • To enhance soil health by adopting precision agriculture and regenerative agriculture practices that increase soil organic carbon levels, and to store carbon in standing trees.
  • To provide financial assistance to voluntary farmers and ranchers who adopt practices that reduce fossil fuel inputs in their operations and increase the quantity of carbon stored on their land.

Program Required Measurements:

  • Biennial report to the legislature and the Governor, prepared by the commission.
  • Public records of funded projects, grant recipients and funding amounts (grant recipients may choose to remain anonymous).

Tools & Guidance: 

  • The Bill specifies that funding be made available to develop tools to help farmers implement grants.
  • The bill directs the commission in consultation with the universities to “evaluate and update the most appropriate carbon equivalency metric to apply to the sustainable farms and fields grant program”.

Funding Source/s:

  • Unspecified in the Bill but expected to come from the General Fund. 

Funding Type/s:

  • Grants 

Practices Eligible for Funding: 

  • Efficiency measures that reduce the quantities of fuel, electrical, fertilizer, pesticide, or water inputs 
  • Regenerative agricultural practice such as:
    • No-till
    • Cover-cropping 
    • Manure 
    • Biochar additions
    • Integrating trees into management
  • Agroforestry
  • Carbon farming

Practices include, but are not limited to

  • Cover cropping;
  • No-till and 13 minimum tillage conservation practices;
  • Crop rotations, manure 14 application;
  • Biochar application;
  • Compost application;
  • Changes in grazing management;
  • Increasing the quantity of organic carbon in aquatic soils;
  • integrating trees, shrubs, seaweed, or other vegetation into management of agricultural and aquacultural lands;
  • Reducing or avoiding carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in or from soils;
  • Reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions through changes to livestock or soil management;
  • Increasing the usage of precision agricultural practices.

Projects that benefit waterways, fish and wildlife habitat are being prioritized.

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking Process:

  • The Department of Agriculture will build out this program in consultation with Washington State University, the State Conservation Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, and State Department of Natural Resources.  

State Universities & Researchers: 

  • Washington State University, Organic Farming Systems and Nutrient Management; “Current and past experiments include the Organic Farming Systems experiment, cover crop trials, climate change gas experiments, food safety, pastured poultry, and improving no-till and minimum tillage methods.” (Land-grant university)

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Advocate Organizations:

115 farms and organizations signed a joint letter of support, including:

Lessons Learned:

  • The Bill initially had substantial bipartisan support and moved through the Senate, but was held up in the House due to stakeholder opposition. While farmers broadly supported the bill, the Farm Bureau and the Potato Commission opposed the bill, citing concerns over competition for funding with the Voluntary Stewardship Program.  
  • The climate change language written into the Bill was its most contentious point.  

Media:

Bipartisan Group of Legislators Backs Sustainable-Farm Bill (Carbon Washington)

Op-ed: The Climate Bill with Bipartisan Support (Washington State Wire)

FARMING TO HELP THE CLIMATE: TWO BILLS IN OLYMPIA PROMOTE “REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE, Investigate West 02/20/2020

Stakeholders Unite To Support Sustainable Farms and Fields, Carbon Washington 02/10/2020

Maps:

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Related Policy 

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Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP)

Dates:

VSP created in 2011

Growth Management Act adopted in 1990

Legislation:

Sponsor/s: 

Description:

The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) was created as a response to the Growth Management Act (GMA) which required all counties in WA to develop plans to prevent urban sprawl by identifying and protecting critical areas, including agricultural lands. VSP allows counties to create their own plans to achieve the goals of the GMA while preventing regulation that was unpopular with landowners. Each VSP plan must protect critical areas while maintaining agricultural viability. All other VSP plan requirements are unique to their region and set of circumstances. 

VSP provides education and funding to help farmers install watershed-based, conservation practices to protect critical areas. The Washington State Conservation Commission oversees the program and distributes funds (appropriated via the General Fund) amongst the participating counties for implementation. Each county then chooses how to allocate funding to farmers and implement their plan. 

VSP has three phases:

  1. Development
    1. Local stakeholders create a workgroup and develop a plan to implement best management practices in their county. 
    2. The Conservation Commission reviews plan for approval. 
  2. Implementation 
    1. Technical assistance providers create and help implement stewardship plans for participating in agriculture landowners. 
  3. Monitoring 
    1. The workgroup monitors progress and delivers a status report to the Conservation Commission every two years. 
    2. The VSP Technical Panel and Statewide Advisory Committee review each county every 5 years to determine their ability to achieve the goals and objectives of the plan. 
    3. If the goals and objectives of the VSP plan are not met, the Conservation Commission creates incentives to support implementation. 

Soil Health Definition:

As defined by the NRCS, “…  the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” This is also the definition used by the University of Washington’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Stated Goals:

  • To support the adoption of watershed-based, conservation practices that will protect critical areas while maintaining agricultural viability

Program Required Measurements:

  • VSP workgroups develop measurements and benchmark specific to each county

Tools & Guidance: 

Funding Source/s: 

  • VSP receives funding through the General Fund, specifically from the Public Works account 

Funding type/s: 

  • Dependant on the plan the county creates. Funding could come in the form of grants, cost-share, or loans.

Practices Eligible for Funding: 

  • Practices that protect critical areas while maintaining agricultural viability. Due to the flexibility of this program that is designed to be unique to each participating county, there aren’t specific eligible practices. 

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking Process:

  • Shared responsibility by the Conservation Commission and the counties that choose to participate in VSP. 

State Universities & Researchers: 

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups:

Lessons Learned:

Media:

Maps:

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Washington Soil Health Initiative

Dates:

Introduced January 15, 2020
Passed unanimously in the Senate, February 17, 2020
Passed the House (94 Y : 3 N), March 5, 2020
Governor signed April 2nd, 2020
Effective June 11, 2020

Legislation: 

SB 6306

Sponsor/s: 

Description:

The Washington Soil Health Initiative (SHI) is created as a partnership jointly administered by WSU, WSDA, and the Commission. The goals and objectives of the SHI are to improve:

  • agricultural viability, by improving farm profitability; 
  • nutrition, by increasing health-promoting nutrients, micronutrients, and microbial processes of agricultural soils; 
  • and environmental function, by reducing soil erosion, runoff, and leaching of nutrients and pollutants, while also improving water quality

WSU, WSDA, and the Commission must support and supplement current Washington Soil Health Advisory Committee membership to promote effective implementation of the SHI. 

WSU, WSDA, and the Commission jointly assess programmatic needs and build capacity to implement the SHI, prioritize in-state sourcing of needed SHI resources and employ adaptive management to support the improvement and long-term viability of the SHI.

A biennial progress report is to be submitted to the Governor and the Legislature.

Soil Health Definition:

“The continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.”

Stated Goals:

“It is the intent of the legislature that the mission of the Washington soil health initiative be the promotion of collaborative soil health research, education, demonstration projects, and technical assistance activities designed to identify, promote, and implement soil health stewardship practices that are grounded in sound science and that can be voluntarily and economically implemented by farmers and ranchers across Washington’s diverse agricultural communities, climates, and geographies.”

Program Required Measurements:

The university is tasked with compiling and developing “existing soil health information and ancillary agronomic, economic, environmental, and nutritional benefits”.

The department is directed to compile “existing information on agricultural viability and environmental function effects related to agricultural soil management practices and regimes across the state’s diverse food production zones, soil types, tillage systems, and cropping methods” as well as a “baseline assessment of statewide agricultural soil health practices and characteristic soil health indicators”.

Tools: 

N/A

Funding Source:

No appropriation was allocated for FY 2020.

Funding Type:  

State budget/bonds

Practices eligible for funding: 

N/A

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking process:

The bill establishes joint responsibilities as well as specific tasks for the agencies involved.

State Universities & Researchers: 

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups:

N/A

Lessons Learned:

N/A

Media:

FARMING TO HELP THE CLIMATE: TWO BILLS IN OLYMPIA PROMOTE “REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE, Investigate West 02/20/2020


Resources

Washington State Soil Health Roadmap
In 2018, the Washington State Legislature provided funding to Washington State University to compile the Washington State Soil Health Roadmap, released in November 2021.


Last updated 11/13/21


Questions?

Contact Washington@healthysoilspolicy.org