What is MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP)?
May 12, 2022
My name is Scott, and I’m MALT’s stewardship program manager. Each year, my colleagues and I visit every MALT-protected ranch. These visits are an opportunity to check in with farmers and ranchers about their MALT conservation easements, learn about upcoming projects and offer support where we are able. One of the primary ways MALT supports farmers and ranchers is through our Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP).
I’ve answered these crucial questions below to help you better understand SAP and its impact.
What is MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program?
Once MALT has protected a ranch with an agricultural conservation easement, MALT’s team gets to work with farmers and ranchers to improve soil and water quality, increase agricultural productivity, protect habitat and natural resources and make Marin’s working farms and ranches more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
Developed in 2002, MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP) began as an effort to improve water quality in the region. SAP is a grant-making program that helps provides farmers and ranchers with the resources necessary to sustainably steward their easement-protected land. Through SAP, MALT provides technical guidance, knowledge and funding to agriculturalists to plan and implement sustainable management and conservation practices.
Since its start, SAP has contributed more than $1.39 million toward 138 different projects on 56 ranches across Marin, increasing the important ecosystem services provided by Marin farm and ranchland, including improved water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration.
How does SAP work? How is it funded?
Advancing MALT’s stewardship goals is best done in partnership. When a landowner or a lessee on MALT-conserved land submits an application to MALT, there are three different tracks for an application to be processed in: 1) The applicant is working directly with MALT and no other organization/agency; 2) The applicant is working with a grant from another organization/agency and they are applying for MALT funding to help offset project costs; and 3) The applicant is an “interested party” and the project is administered and managed by the Marin Resource Conservation District (MRCD).
Here is some additional insight to the three different funding tracks:
- Track 1: If a landowner or lessee is applying directly to MALT, MALT staff will process their application using a scoring and ranking criteria based on our strategic conservation targets, which are rooted in the four desired outcomes tied to our mission and vision. If the application is approved, the landowner is eligible for a reimbursement grant of up to $15,000 with a mandatory landowner cost share of at least 15%.
- Track 2: These projects are administered and led by an outside organization such as the MRCD or Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The MRCD often applies for large grants from local, state or federal sources and if they are awarded the grant, they will solicit the community and engage in a competitive process where projects, that landowners apply for, are scored and ranked by a technical advisory committee.
The NRCS also offers cost share opportunities through their Environmental Quality Incentives Program which offers funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to address natural resource concerns and deliver ecological benefits. The California Department of Farming and Agriculture (CDFA) also offers programs such as the Alternative Manure Management Program or Healthy Soils Incentives Program. These are statewide programs that have their own eligibility, selection criteria and grant cycle. If a landowner is awarded a grant through MRCD or NRCS, or is enrolled in a CDFA program, they can also leverage that funding by applying for MALT SAP funding. If awarded SAP funding, the landowner is eligible for up to $50,000 towards cost-share of the remaining landowner contributions for these large-impact projects. The landowner is required to pay at least 15% of their remaining cost share.
- Track 3: MALT board members or other “interested parties,” as defined in MALT’s Conflict of Interest Policy, may also apply for SAP grants. MALT encourages all landowners to be good land stewards and values equity and fairness in the distribution of SAP grants. To alleviate bias and any unfair access to this funding, MALT engages with the MRCD, a government agency that holds public meetings and discloses project information used to evaluate, administer, approve and manage these grants.
MALT is fortunate to receive gifts from generous donors, which funds our stewardship work including SAP. Throughout the process, MALT stewardship staff works closely with farmers, ranchers and partners to ensure SAP projects adhere to conservation practice standards and accomplish conservation goals.
MALT and the MRCD also work closely with the UC Cooperative Extension, Carbon Cycle Institute, Point Blue Conservation Science’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (STRAW) program, NRCS and the Marin Carbon Project to implement a range of impactful projects.
The partners engaged in a SAP project depend on each unique project and farm or ranch. For example, for most planting projects, MALT partners with STRAW, an educational program through Point Blue Conservation Science that engages teachers and students in implementing restoration efforts on MALT-protected farms and ranches.
What types of projects does MALT work on through SAP?
SAP funds a variety of conservation projects that protect Marin’s watersheds, increase sustainable range and pasture management, provide technical farm assistance and increase carbon sequestration through climate-resilient and carbon farming practices. Projects can vary from cross fence installation, riparian restoration, water infrastructure development, stream bank stabilization, compost application, pasture seeding and more.
Often these projects are identified in the farm or ranch’s Agricultural Management Plan, Creek Conservation Area Management Plan, Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan or a carbon farm plan, created by the agriculturalist, MALT and partner agencies.
What SAP projects has MALT completed?
MALT and its partners have completed 138 projects to date, with many more in the pipeline! These various projects fall into any of the following categories:
- Watershed Protection: Learn how MALT worked with Corda Ranch to restore a sensitive riparian corridor. Click here.
- Range and Pasture Management: See how MALT worked with Blue Jay Ranch to improve water access for the ranch’s cattle and enhance climate-beneficial grazing practices. Click here.
- Technical Farm Assistance: Learn how MALT worked with Gallagher North Bend Ranch on a stream bank assessment and implementation project to help restore a section of Lagunitas Creek. Click here.
- Climate-Resilient and Carbon Farming Practices: See how MALT and our partners have worked together with Toluma Farms and Straus Home Ranch to implement carbon farm plans. And learn more about carbon farming.
More examples of SAP projects can be found here.
What are the benefits of SAP?
Making up 57 million acres in California alone, rangelands have the potential to be managed more productively, sequestering more carbon into the soil. One study from the University of California, Davis, found that grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests in 21st century California.
In Marin County, only roughly 3% of productive agricultural land is ideal for row crop production. Most of Marin’s productive agricultural land is rangeland, with water availability, topography, soil types and microclimates best suited to livestock and dairy production.
Well-managed, privately-owned rangelands provide a host of environmental benefits, including groundwater filtration, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, open space and scenic landscapes. Through SAP, MALT is helping Marin farmers and ranchers adopt the practices to achieve and increase these positive outcomes.
MALT holds agricultural conservation easements on more than 54,000 acres of the privately-held agricultural land in Marin County. MALT is leveraging this unique opportunity to increase sustainable management practices throughout the county through grants from its Stewardship Assistance Program and unique partnerships.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
MALT has preserved more than 54,000 acres of Marin’s productive farmland to date, but there are still roughly 50,000 acres to go. Donate today to protect at-risk farmland in Marin County, forever.
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Stewardship Program Manager – Sustainable Agriculture