CAFF Ag Policy Update: Fall 2019

(In order of importance as ranked by our 2018 Policy survey)

  1. Immigration reform and farm labor

CAFF spearheaded the creation of an immigration reform policy position at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in 2013, which we then used to influence the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill. Unfortunately, the House did not pass this bill and anyway the farm labor provisions were not in line with our positions. Since then we have discussed our proposal with many people, and most recently with certain members of the board of Western Growers, including Driscoll’s and Reiter Berry. We created a similar policy statement with the Organic Farmers Association and we spoke to a number of Congressional Representatives in January. Our basic proposal is to legalize the existing farm labor force along the lines of Dianne Feinstein’s Blue Card or Ag Jobs proposal and then to issue work visas to new immigrants so that they may work in agriculture for some number of years, with the prospect of eventually becoming legal permanent residents. A new bill appeared in October 2019 that would accomplish some of what we have sought, but it is mostly structured within the H-2A program, which both lacks farmworker protections and would be difficult for smaller farmers to utilize in the future. 

  1. Climate Smart Farming Incentives

CAFF was a founding member of CalCAN and CAFF has played an important role in CalCAN ever since. CAFF’s Policy Director is on the CalCAN Executive Committee and CAFF lobbies along with the CalCAN staff. CAFF staff helped draft and lobby for the first bill ever to provide funding for farming practices to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in agriculture and sequester carbon in soil and plants.  After two years of negotiations with CDFA and the legislature, that bill, signed by Governor Brown, created the Healthy Soils Program at CDFA. We have been involved in the appropriation of funds for Healthy Soils and subsequent refinements such as the technical assistance bill that was passed in 2018. CAFF has worked to provide assistance to farmers who want to apply to the program and we expect to continue that work. 

  1. Water, surface and groundwater

CAFF has been promoting agricultural water use efficiency since 2009. We have held numerous field days on efficient irrigation and dry farming of wine grapes. We were a founding member of the California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI) and the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply and we maintain the CAWSI web site, which is oriented towards water-related practices that farmers can adopt ( ). 

CAFF was the only agricultural organization to support the landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in 2014, which requires local agencies to adopt and implement long-term groundwater management plans to prevent overdraft.  We believe that this law will lead to more local collaboration and sustainability of water use in northern California, however it will clearly idle land in the southern San Joaquin Valley. 

At present we are creating a series of case studies of irrigation districts and how they are coping with increased regulation of water.

  1. Farmland protection

CalCAN, CAFF, and American Farmland Trust jointly worked to create the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program at the Strategic Growth Council, which supports conservation easements on farm and ranch land. It was created by the Resources Agency after two bills that CAFF and CalCAN sponsored to require mitigation of the development of agricultural land were defeated in the Legislature. Funded by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, SALCP receives 2% of those funds each year. From 2015 through 2018, the SALC Program has committed funds to 69 projects adding to $123 million, in addition to granting funds to local governments for agricultural land planning.

  1. Organic practices and standards

CAFF’s Policy Director serves on the policy committee of the Organic Farmers Association, where CAFF is an organizational member. OFA actively lobbies in Washington DC and attempts to influence the USDA National Organic Program.  Some long-time organic farmers have become disillusioned with the NOP and have started alternative certification schemes, such as the Real Organic Project or Regenerative certifications. CAFF has not committed to any alternative thus far.

  1. Beginning farmer support

We passed two bills in 2014 and 2015 to support urban farming, which is often more accessible to beginning farmers. This legislation allows “community food producers” who are farming on land not zoned for agriculture to sell whole produce and shell eggs to any consumer or permitted food facility. 

  1. US Farm Bill

CAFF is represented in Washington DC by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). NSAC was created to work on the Farm Bill and we collaborated with them in 2018 on the current Farm Bill. The final Farm Bill that was passed at the end of 2018 looked very much like the bi-partisan Senate bill and we are now working on implementation. 

  1. Renewable energy

Early work by CAFF and CalCAN focused on net energy metering. Farmers were installing renewable energy but were having a difficult time connecting to the grid and gaining credit for their power production, as the utilities required costly studies before they would connect. We passed two bills with Senator Lois Wolk in 2011 and 2012 that allowed these connections under net energy metering rules, and also allowed farmers to combine parcels and meters. This led to a large upsurge in alternative energy connections by farms in California.

  1. Direct marketing

CAFF was founded in the 1970s by famers who helped to create the certified farmers’ market program in California. More recently, CAFF supported successful legislation to expand the ability of farmers to sell their products at farm stands and legalize the sale of produce to restaurants at farmers markets (2008); supported legislation on “cottage foods” that permits foods deemed to be non-potentially-hazardous to be produced in a home kitchen and sold through direct marketing (2012); and sponsored a law to support CSAs by creating a program at CDFA that allows CSAs to register for $75, thereby avoiding costly regulation by health authorities (2013). CAFF’s Policy Director serves on CDFA’s Farmers’ Market Advisory Committee and CAFF has actively participated in legislation on farmers’ markets, including joining with the Farm Bureau to block a $6 per day stall fee for CDFA and Ag Commissioner enforcement and limiting it to $2—it was $.60 and hadn’t been raised in 20 years.

  1. Disadvantaged farmers and social equity

We supported the Farmer Equity Act, sponsored by the Farmer Justice Collaborative in 2016. With CalCAN, we also included a 25% set-aside for technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers in our 2018 bill to require more technical assistance for farmers applying for environmental programs at CDFA. 

  1. Farm to cafeteria

CAFF and Occidental College were the Farm-to-School trailblazers in California. CAFF has operated various Farm to School programs for two decades. We currently match family farmers with school, university, and hospital food service buyers. CAFF turned over the California Farm to School Network to CDFA a couple of years ago and we are supporting their efforts to secure funding. 

  1. Compost regulations

CAFF has been trying for several years to undo the application of State Water Board commercial compost regulations to farmers. We have an agreement with the Water Board to accomplish this, which would free farmers to bring necessary feedstocks onto their farms and make compost without excessive regulation.  Farmers would instead observe a set of best management practices and be regulated under the Irrigated Lands order, the Dairy order, or some other order. This is due to be concluded in February 2020.

  1. Nutrient management, irrigated lands program

We have not yet done anything to influence this program, although once the compost regulations are finished we will try to make it more organic farmer friendly.

  1. Food safety

CAFF has worked on food safety policy since the 2006 spinach outbreak. We opposed the creation of a mandatory state marketing order for leafy greens, which resulted in the Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement, a voluntary state-sponsored organization that audits farmers against a set of food safety protocols. We worked with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to amend the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to protect small farms and the environment, and we followed through with NSAC by negotiating with FDA on the rules for FSMA and now its implementation. CAFF has co-chaired a committee at NSAC focused on food safety and now is working with NSAC and FDA to create an alternative curriculum for FSMA training more appropriate for small, minority and beginning farmers. CAFF has conducted food safety outreach and education for the past 6 years and has spoken to over 2,500 farmers through food safety workshops and assisted over 250 farms to create food safety plans. NSAC had a request in the 2018 Farm Bill that would have provided cost share funds for food safety audits and equipment upgrades; it was unfortunately rolled into two other programs and we are trying to get it back out. 


– Dave Runsten

Policy Director, CAFF