From the onset of 2015, great progress for the spread of compost use was expected during International Year of Soils, and there have been few disappointments over that timeframe. While a wide variety of policy drivers (along with some costly policy barriers) have been implemented or been under development during the last year, the last re- maining obstacle is the largest: “Who’s going to pay for it?!”
To answer this critical question it will require not only a clear understanding of the greenhouse gas benefits of removing organic resources from the landfills, but also a better education for policymakers on the benefits of compost use – from the resulting increase in soil organic matter – and the Soil & Water Connection, this year’s theme for Inter- national Compost Awareness Week.
Throughout 2015, CDFA worked to develop the process for advancing the Governor’s Healthy Soils Initiative. CDFA has continued working to estab- lish agronomic rates for application of compost to agricultural soils, both on farmland and rangelands, engaging a wide array of government agencies and private interests in a stakeholder process, during regular meetings of the Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel (EFA SAP). The draft documentation outlining the agronomic
rate recommendations drew some criticism and substantial feedback; we are hopeful a new draft will be forthcoming soon that will more accurately portray the benefits of com- post use, as well as identifying research needs, for which stakeholders can move forward with projects and studies which will fill in the gaps.
The Healthy Soils Initiative established both short- and long-term actions for enhancing soil health, and compost is front-and-center of many of the elements outlined.
Of primary importance to the composting industry, short-term actions include:
• Establish a short- and long-term goal for building soil or- ganic matter in California’s agricultural and degraded soils. As noted above, CDFA has continued to work towards meaningful agronomic rates for compost use; soil organic matter targets are MIA.
• Encourage organic diversions from landfills to more beneficial uses, including composting facilities, by a tiered tipping fee or complementary mechanism that incentivizes the diversion of organics. Unfortunately, the development of new funding mechanisms has lost momentum, given the requirement for a two-thirds approval by legislators.
Subsequent to the Governor’s initiative, SB 1350 (Wolk) has been introduced (among other measures) to establish and oversee a Healthy Soils Program to provide incentives, including loans, grants, research, and tech- nical assistance, or educational materials and outreach, to farmers whose manage- ment practices contribute to healthful soils and result in net long-term on-farm green- house gas benefits. Currently, SB 1350 appears destined for the Governor’s desk.
While Cap & Trade fund revenues are expected to top $3 billion in 2016, there is considerable controversy in the Legislature on how and when to spend this windfall.
Ideally, it would be invested immediately in early action items, with a focus on getting the most bang for the buck. Recent analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office has identified loans and grants for organics projects as among the most cost-efficient programs available.
One can only hope that logic will carry the day, that the science (Soil & Water Connection) and the cost/benefit analysis by their own staff will lead legislators to approve CalRecycle’s Cap & Trade stimulus funding for the best projects money can buy.