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LAFCO approves final report recommendations for agricultural conservation grant

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The Aug. 7 meeting of San Diego County's Local Agency Formation Commission included a presentation on a Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) grant on which LAFCO has partnered and an 8-0 LAFCO vote to support the recommendations included in the final report.

“I’m glad you’re working with the farmers,” said County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who chairs the LAFCO board.

The state’s SALC program was created in 2014 as a component of the California Strategic Growth Council and is administered by the state's Department of Conservation. The SALC program is primarily funded through "cap and trade" funds and provides agricultural conservation acquisition and planning grants for programs intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The principal goals of the SALC are to protect at-risk agricultural lands from development by promoting growth within existing jurisdictions, to ensure that open space remains available, to support a healthy agricultural economy and to avoid increases in greenhouse gas emissions associated with the conversion of agricultural land to more intensive non-agricultural uses.

The August 2020 LAFCO meeting authorized LAFCO to be the lead applicant for the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation grant and to submit a $250,000 grant application. The Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego was LAFCO’s primary partner, and the partnership also included the San Diego Association of Governments and the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

The RCD of Greater San Diego initially intended to be the lead applicant for the SALC grant, but a resource conservation district has no regulatory authority and an update to the final grant program guidelines eliminated RCDs as eligible applicants. The RCD of Greater San Diego had asked LAFCO to participate in March, and after it was determined that the RCD could not be the lead applicant the other partners requested that LAFCO take the role as the lead applicant.

LAFCO was awarded a two‐year grant for the full $250,000. The work began in June 2021 and was completed in June 2023.

In August 2022, the LAFCO board approved an application for a separate SALC grant; LAFCO and the County of San Diego were co-applicants for that $500,000 grant which was subsequently awarded.

That grant will generate market information and best practice data to support and sustain agriculture in San Diego County with a focus on aiding small-scale farming operations, including cost-benefit analysis on specific crops, and identify the average return on investment for key crops in the region, the average return on investment needed to sustain small farms over time, the gap in return on investment between marginal farms and economically sustainable farms, and the key cost centers (for example, water, labor and entry barriers) contributing to that gap.

The recommendations in the final report of the initial grant include assigning agricultural liaisons for city and county governments, designing lease agreements which invest in working lands, creating a regional land use plan to prioritize agriculture, funding growers to transition to low water use crops and more efficient irrigation, equipping and incentivizing farmers to adopt sustainable practices, streamlining construction of farmworker housing, developing advanced water treatment facilities with priority for agricultural use, promoting small farming opportunities through information about costs and benefits of small farms, expanding technical assistance by providing more vocational training, and building capacity of farmers and farmworkers with training and services.

“We really want to make sure that we can also work together with farmers,” said RCD of Greater San Diego executive director Ann Baldridge.

 

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