5: Funding Mechanisms/Incentives
Despite good intentions and a willingness to implement additional or modify existing management practices on their land, growers and ranchers are sometimes discouraged from doing so due to significant initial costs for construction and then ongoing maintenance. The general intent of the strategies in this section is to develop ways to assist landowners and tenants in developing funding and economic incentives for agricultural conservation measures, and to promote their long-term economic benefits. Also included are strategies to inform growers and ranchers about tax policies which provide tax relief for implementing conservation measures, and to develop new policies that can serve as an additional incentive for voluntarily adopting such measures.
Develop easy-to-use information on potential sources of cost-share funds, grants and other monies which could be used for agricultural conservation or watershed projects. Include brief descriptions of funding programs, including eligibility requirements, contacts, procedures, forms. Widely distribute this information in the agricultural community, and offer assistance/training in matching the landowner or agricultural group's needs to the appropriate funding program.
There is a diverse array of sources of cost-share dollars, grants and other types of funding for addressing agricultural conservation projects and watershed issues. However, many landowners or organizations that could be applying for these funds have not taken advantage of the opportunities, either because they are not aware they exist, or because the suitability and requirements of the various programs is not easy to determine. Some groups may have little or no experience with grant applications or cost-share processes, and could benefit from assistance/training in pursuing these funds.
Step 1: Compile and widely distribute a pamphlet describing funding sources.
- Review available state summaries and make modifications/additions where needed for local contacts and applicability.
- Tabulate types and sources of funding, phone numbers, contact points.
- Include application dates and timelines for application and approval.
- Describe types of projects and applicants which are eligible.
- Package the information into an easy-to-use pamphlet.
Step 2: Distribute information and provide assistance/training with applications.
- Conduct regional cost-share and grant information workshops, with training and assistance in going through the application process. Incorporate into existing workshops and short courses conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), etc.
- Develop regional coordination/networking to support grant proposals.
- Provide example grant proposals/applications for a variety of project types.
RWQCBs, EPA, SWRCB, NRCS, RCDs, Farm Services Agency (FSA), WQPP, AMBAG, county planning departments, local assessment districts, CAFF, Watershed Institute, UCCE, county Farm Bureaus, California Cattlemen's Associations, Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California and other commodity associations, private foundations.
Success will be measured by the production of a pamphlet describing funding sources, the number of pamphlets distributed to growers and ranchers, and the participation among growers and ranchers in cost-share and grant information workshops. Longer-term success will be measured by tracking increased utilization of these funds by local growers and ranchers, and by tracking increases in implementation of management practices, due in part to the availability of supplementary funding.
Strategy 5-2: Facilitate availability of low-cost labor and trained assistance for conservation field projects.
Create a regional conservation team composed of representatives of natural resource agencies, land trusts and agricultural representatives to work toward the goal of coordinating and utilizing available sources of inexpensive or volunteer labor from government sources (Americorps, California Conservation Corps, Sheriff's work crews), educational institutions (junior/senior high schools, and colleges), and/or environmental groups and other nonprofit groups with specialized expertise. This team could be led by experienced conservation workers who train, direct, and provide workers for restoration, assessment, and management practice implementation in collaboration with the landowners. The team could act as assistants to growers, ranchers, and public landowners/land trusts in carrying out conservation projects.
The important work of restoring habitat, implementing management practices, and assessing environmental quality and effectiveness of conservation measures may be hampered by the high cost and unavailability of appropriately trained labor. Much of this labor could be provided by trained volunteers, work crews, and student interns. This would reduce the number of paid individuals necessary for restoration and monitoring programs, and would instead allow paid individuals to focus more on training and coordinating volunteers, providing considerable labor per dollar cost. This inexpensive labor might also be beneficial when applying to government agencies for grants to develop various projects, by providing match funding.
Step 1: Assess the needs/benefits for labor by surveying resource agency staff, growers/ranchers and land trusts that are directly involved in restoration, resource assessments, and implementation of management practices.
- Determine the types of projects which landowners and agencies feel are best suited to volunteers.
- Determine the benefits possible in terms of completing additional projects which could not otherwise be funded.
- Determine how the volunteers would be effectively supervised on-site.
- Evaluate/address liability issues for summer employers, volunteers, etc.
- Identify specific properties where landowners would welcome volunteer assistance.
Step 2: Promote initiation of coordinated labor-sharing and internship programs among these groups.
- Contact government agencies and schools as sources of dedicated labor (e.g., Sheriff's work crews, fire crews, Americorps, California Conservation Corps, Service Learning Institute at California State University Monterey Bay).
- Develop a summer youth employment program to provide employment and job-training opportunities.
Step 3: Provide training of interns/volunteers to provide high-quality labor for some projects.
- Develop or work with programs similar to "Adopt-a-Watershed" or "Return of the Natives" for local schools and residents to provide a labor force, education opportunities, and community "ownership" of the project.
NRCS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), California Coastal Commission, Watershed Institute, Coastal Watershed Council, California Conservation Corps, county Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations, Western Growers' Association, Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California and other commodity associations.
Overall success will be indicated by a well-organized, ongoing program of matching volunteers to grower/ranchers' and land trusts' conservation project needs, and by tracking the number of projects which are implemented which utilize this assistance. Interim goals will be measured by: the creation of the regional conservation team; the number of growers/ranchers and land trusts informed about the coordinated volunteer program, and surveys completed regarding their labor needs; and participation in volunteer trainings geared toward implementing conservation practices on agricultural and land trust properties.
Revise cost-share programs to make them more accessible to a wider range of growers and ranchers, without reducing funding to existing regional programs. Develop means to provide up-front funding for conservation improvements, rather than delayed reimbursements as part of cost-sharing programs. Streamline paperwork to facilitate granting of cost-share dollars or emergency funding assistance for conservation practices.
The current system of cost-sharing such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) reimburses growers after they have installed the conservation measures. This reimbursement often does not occur for several months after the grower initiates capital and labor expenditures for the system. Such a cost-sharing system does not remove the financial disincentive for growers who do not have the start-up capital for initiating conservation projects. These growers can sometimes have the most damaging effects on the environment because they do not have the long-term capital or time to address conservation measures. Also, the current policy of cost-share programs requires that growers hold leases for at least five years. As leases of that duration are uncommon in many areas of the Central Coast, this effectively excludes participation by many tenants.
Step 1: Develop cost-share alternatives for growers with short-term leases.
- Work with Farm Services Agency (FSA), NRCS state offices, and the U.S. Congress to investigate potential for modifications in program policy to accommodate shorter term leases. Extend applicability to tenants who can demonstrate past control of land for one or two years, even though it is through a series of short-term leases.
- Encourage development of cost-share applications with the landowner rather than with the lessee, and identify respective responsibilities of each.
- Pursue implementation of most feasible alternative with FSA and NRCS or other agencies with applicable programs. (Initial efforts underway for Elkhorn Slough.)
Step 2: Modify cost-share program reimbursement policy.
- Identify and prioritize conservation cost-sharing programs which include reimbursement policies (e.g., EQIP).
- Investigate means to
modify/utilize these policies to cover up-front
- a) partial advance payments (25 to 50% of approved costs);
- b) providing guaranteed payment vouchers directly to contractors or material suppliers (modify existing "assignment of payment system");
- c) providing full grants to producers to install conservation system. These may require legislative action to address modifications.
- If feasible, plan and implement necessary changes in policy and funding. Where necessary, propose changes to program state headquarters as pilot projects for this region.
- If not feasible, or if additional up-front funds are needed, proceed to Step 3.
Step 3: Develop loans to cover start-up costs.
- Investigate interests of local foundations, small agricultural loan programs or other groups in modifying their scope to provide short-term loans to cover start-up costs, to be reimbursed by cost-share programs.
- Coordinate with FSA to assign cost-share payment to foundation or lender rather than an individual grower.
- Develop streamlined paperwork system to avoid separate application to foundation.
Step 4: Identify and prioritize programs which could benefit from streamlining and work with relevant agencies to streamline application process.
- Conduct interviews with growers, ranchers and agency staff to identify key programs where paperwork and lengthy timelines are an important barrier to sign-ups.
- Identify and investigate streamlining projects undertaken elsewhere as potential models.
- Identify and revise specific steps in application process which are most burdensome to applicants, and reduce overlap in required information while retaining sufficient information to meet program mandates.
- Consider designation of staff to assist growers through the application process.
Step 5: Promote streamlined programs to encourage use.
- Develop and distribute user-friendly materials describing improved application process.
- Promote revised programs to local growers and ranchers via agricultural newsletters, flyers, etc. to encourage new utilization of the programs.
- Translate into appropriate languages to reach intended audience.
FSA, NRCS, EPA, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Rural Development Center (RDC), RCDs, CDFG, California Coastal Conservancy, local foundations, small agricultural loan programs.
Overall success will be indicated by an increase in conservation management practices installed due in part to the changes made to existing cost-share programs. Interim goals will be measured by: changes to cost-share programs to accommodate short-term leases; the establishment of loan programs and the modification of cost-share programs to cover up-front costs; streamlining of the cost-share application process; and the number of flyers, newsletter articles, etc. produced and distributed to promote use of modified cost-share programs.
Develop a guide to help growers understand how they may take advantage of existing tax code elements to develop conservation improvements. Provide information on a state and federal tax level to assist growers in planning improvements as capital expenditures in their annual budgets and taxes.
Some growers may be unaware of tax advantages that are currently available and that may offset the cost of implementing conservation improvements as capital expenditures. Some tax advantages may act as an incentive for improvements.
Step 1: Develop a guide to taxation of improvements.
- Consult taxation specialists in state legislature and in Congress.
- Consult private tax specialists.
Step 2: Distribute guide to growers through agricultural service organizations.
- Provide wide distribution to landowners and tenants.
- Provide list of individuals that can offer assistance in interpreting tax laws.
County Farm Bureaus, RCDs, UCCE, NRCS, California FarmLink, county Agricultural Commissioners, county Tax Assessors, WQPP.
Success will be measured by the production of the guide on existing tax benefits, and by the number of guides distributed to growers and ranchers. Spot surveys will also be conducted to determine the degree to which growers and ranchers used the information provided, and whether it provided an incentive to adopt additional conservation management practices.
Increase the availability of tax benefits for growers and ranchers (including both landowners and tenants) to help offset the initial cost of making conservation improvements that improve water quality, without impairing existing tax benefit programs established for other purposes.
Tax incentives would help growers "meet the bottom line" when bearing the initial cost of making improvements that result in improved environmental quality. The incentives may not need to pay for the entire improvement, but could offset the cost sufficiently that they are acceptable over time. This is especially important during less profitable years when costs account for a greater portion of income.
Step 1: Gain assistance of state and federal legislators to develop tax relief for landowners and tenants who voluntarily implement conservation measures addressing erosion and runoff, water conservation, pesticides and nutrients, etc.
Step 2: Coordinate with state and federal farm service organizations to help promote tax incentives.
Step 3: Develop means of passing benefits on to tenant farmers.
Step 4: Provide incentives for the voluntary adoption of water conservation management practices by reducing the rate of assessment from water management agencies for growers who meet phased targets/criteria for water conservation.
County Farm Bureaus, county Agricultural Commissioners, UCCE, state legislative specialists, federal congressional tax and agriculture specialists, environmental groups, local water resources agencies, WQPP.
Success will be gauged by the increase in tax incentives for implementing agricultural conservation measures, and by tracking the degree to which these incentives are used by the region's growers and ranchers to implement conservation measures.