Author: Karen Hills, Sustainable Farms and Field Program Manager, Washington State Conservation Commission
When I took the job managing the Washington State Conservation Commission’s newest grant program: Sustainable Farms and Fields, I must admit that the whole thing was exciting, but slightly daunting. I’d followed the creation of Sustainable Farms and Fields in 2020 as it gradually got off the ground with no funding in the budget for the first two years. I had never managed a grant program before as my background was mostly in academia, but this program held so much promise that I took a step into the realm of Sustainable Farms and Fields and have been propelled by the enthusiasm of stakeholders for this new grant program.
Hitting the Ground Running
I’m happy to report that a mere four months after the Request for Applications was released in November 2022, all $1.8 million in funding for the 2023 fiscal year has been committed and I’m really excited about some of the great projects that will be taking place – from equipment for rental programs allowing producers to “try before they buy” to innovative cover crop projects to manure separators – applicants came through with a variety of interesting and beneficial projects.
The main goal of Sustainable Farms and Fields is to increase climate-smart practices – or those that increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions – on farmland, rangeland, and aquaculture tidelands.
While Sustainable Farms and Fields is open to conservation districts and other public entities, all but one of the 53 funded projects this funding cycle were submitted by conservation districts, with 25 of Washington’s 45 districts represented among the funded projects. The non-CD project that was funded was submitted by a county government. Among the funded projects,
- 12 conservation districts received funding to offer technical assistance related to climate-smart practices.
- 12 projects were funded allowing conservation districts (and one county) to add pieces of equipment (e.g., no-till drills, roller crimpers) to their equipment rental programs to help producers to implement climate-smart practices.
See a full list of 2023 funded projects.
Seeing Familiar Practices through a Climate Lens
Though most of the conservation practices eligible for SFF funding are not new practices to conservation district staff (e.g., cover crops, reduced tillage, tree and shrub establishment), considering their climate impact is a new spin on some familiar practices (many of which also improve soil health!). For example, hedgerow plantings have long been used to serve as windbreaks and provide pollinator habitat, but they also have the potential to provide an on-farm carbon sink.
One of the criteria by which applications were ranked was their expected impact in terms of carbon sequestration and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In most cases, applicants calculated the anticipated impact of projects by using a new tool created by WSDA specifically for this purpose called the Washington Climate Smart Estimator. Project managers will continue to fine tune those estimates at the reporting phase of each project, using COMET-Farm and will be compiled into a report to the legislature this fall.
There are always a few kinks to get worked out in the first year of any program and SFF is no exception. However, we are excited to follow (and report back on) the great projects that are getting implemented through SFF funding. Many voluntary conservation practices offer a win for climate change mitigation, but also provide benefits for soil health and climate resilience of working lands which continue to be better understood through efforts of WaSHI partners and others working in this space. We expect there to be another $1.5 million available to fund projects through SFF for fiscal year 2024 and will soon be announcing the application cutoff date this summer.
To continue to follow updates on Sustainable Farms and Fields, check the SFF webpage or subscribe to updates on SFF or other programs of the Washington State Conservation Commission here.