PARTNERS

By Vicky Boyd

The San Joaquin Farm Bureau recently held a half-day informational and work meeting to help growers interested in applying for State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, or SWEEP, grants.

SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett said the program is mutually beneficial because it helps the state reach its goals of reducing water use and greenhouse gas emissions while providing financial incentives to growers to improve their irrigation systems.

“It’s good news for the people who want to do it anyway – it’s a way to become more efficient and get the state of California to help pay for it,” he said.

Edele Norman, who farms with her husband in the Collegeville area southeast of Stockton, said she wasn’t even aware of SWEEP grants until she received a SJFB email announcing the workshop.

Although one of their improvement projects is already in the works and therefore wouldn’t qualify, Norman said they planned another one they hadn’t yet started. It involves converting a piece of ground from furrow to micro-sprinkler irrigation, changing a pump to a variable-frequency drive and installing a solar generation system.

“It’s a big outlay,” Norman said. “So if you can get some money to help from a financial standpoint, I think it’s really a good thing.”

After attending the workshop, she was ready to apply.

Administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, SWEEP offers cost-share grants of up to $100,000 per project per application period, with a maximum of $600,000 altogether.

SJFB also received CDFA funding to offer SWEEP technical assistance statewide. To do so, Farm Bureau contracted with Mike Blankinship, a professional engineer and president of the Davis-based consulting firm, Blankinship & Associates.

“We present to Farm Bureau members the details of the grant process and how to complete the spread sheets that are necessary to submit to CDFA,” Blankinship said. “There are two that are particularly difficult if you’re not familiar with some of the details.”

One involves water-use calculations; the other is a greenhouse gas calculation.

Blankinship said his firm also can help growers with project design, cost estimates and project timelines.

At first glance, he said, the application process can be daunting to growers.

“We’ve had growers look at it and say they didn’t have time for it,” he said. “It’s been difficult for growers to get their arms around it just by themselves. We feel like we’re filling a niche to help Farm Bureau members complete it and apply.”

He compared it to hiring an accountant to calculate and file your income taxes rather than trying to figure out all of the forms and income calculations by yourself.

“It’s not surprising that the devil is in the detail,” Blankinship said.

Amber McDowell, SJFB program assistant who underwent CDFA training to become a SWEEP technical assistant, agreed.

“If you look at these spread sheets, they look overwhelming, and a few of them are tricky,” she said.

Norman said she works on a computer and didn’t find the spread sheets particularly difficult. What she found helpful during the workshop was Blankinship’s explanation of the overall program and application process.

“I was very happy to see there were several points that we would definitely qualify to do,” Norman said. “I’ve never applied for a grant. I thought, why not if the money is out there. That was our thinking since we’re going to do this anyway.”

She said she also appreciated McDowell’s help with how to word various descriptions within the application.

Doing your homework

To begin the process, McDowell said growers need to have results of a recent pump efficiency test and at least 12 months of their most recent utility bills or fuel invoices.

Because of the lag between when applications are accepted and when the grants are actually awarded, she said applicants need to have a project in mind that is at least a year out from starting. The state will not retroactively fund projects already underway.

“The thing that’s critical is (applicants) have to show a reduction in water use and greenhouse gas,” she said. “Most understand using less water. But a lot of them get thrown off by the greenhouse gas. You’re wanting to do less pumping, which means less energy, or you’re converting your pump to be more efficient or using a cleaner energy source. You end up getting a pump replacement to help with the greenhouse gas reduction.”

The deadline to submit a SWEEP application for the latest round of funding, which involves about $7 million, is Dec. 16. The grant process is competitive, and internal and external technical review panels score the applications as to the amount of water and greenhouse gas reductions. CDFA is expected to announce grant recipients in early summer 2020.

Another application period for the next round of funding is expected early spring 2020, and SJFB will likely hold another workshop to assist applicants, McDowell said.

Since CDFA began the SWEEP program in 2014, it has selected 725 projects covering more than 127,100 acres, according to state figures. To date, the department has awarded $72.2 million, with more than $47.7 million in matching funds or in-kind contributions from recipients.

The Environmental Farming Act of 1995 authorized programs, such as SWEEP, that provide grower incentives for environmental improvements. Funding for the SWEEP program has come from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, raised from cap-and-trade allowance revenue, as well as Propositions 1 and 68.

If you have questions about the SWEEP program or the grant application process, contact Amber McDowell, SJFB program assistant, at (209) 931-4931 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..