Soil health bill advances in the Legislature

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Soil health advocates won an exciting victory on Thursday as H.F. 701, the “Incentivizing 100% Soil Healthy Farming” bill was approved by the Minnesota House Agriculture committee. The bill was crafted by members and supporters of MEP partner Land Stewardship Project (LSP), and has our coalition’s support.

This legislation has the potential to literally start changing the landscape in Minnesota by helping farmers implement practices that restore depleted soil. It would provide direct payments and grants to help them get started with these practices, and prioritize socially disadvantaged and small and mid-sized farmers. It would also promote practices to make these efforts successful, including tracking soil health and supporting the sharing of necessary equipment.

Why soil health is important

Minnesota’s soil has suffered damage and erosion over decades of the dominant farming paradigm, in which regular tilling and the high-fertilizer monocropping of corn and soybeans has depleted this resource.

This decline is reversible through soil-healthy practices: the use of cover crops and perennials, rotation of crops and grazing livestock, organic farming, and the ending of disruptive tilling. Over time, these practices result in the storing of carbon and other nutrients in the earth, making the soil and the farmers who rely on it more productive in the long term.

Soil health comes with myriad other benefits. Rich soil, especially when it hosts the roots of cover crops and perennials, absorbs vast quantities of water, helping to prevent floods and water pollution. And while the science is not yet clear on the full climate impact of soil health, capturing carbon in the soil is a far better alternative to allowing it to contribute to warming of the atmosphere.

The road to a soil health bill

According to Land Stewardship Project policy organizer Amanda Koehler, the bill was shaped by the input of more than 2,000 LSP members. “After our team of 15 farmer and non-farmer allies crafted the legislation, we hit the ground running to build support in the countryside and at the Capitol by sharing our stories with our neighbors and elected officials,” said Koehler. In an encouraging sign, more than 1300 Minnesotans signed LSP’s petition (which you may have seen in our last two Insiders) in support of the bill to lawmakers and Governor Walz.

The bill was introduced to the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday by Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield), who testified on the benefits of this bill and of building soil health. “There are farmers now who are experimenting with soil health building practices…they’re excited about the differences they’re seeing in their soil.” After hearing further testimony from farmers and advocates, the committee agreed – on a bipartisan, 11-1 vote – to pass the bill onward.

H.F. 701 will next go to the Committee on Judiciary Finance and Civil Law, and will hopefully continue its journey to the full House. Its companion in the Senate, SF 1113, has not yet been heard in the corresponding Agriculture committee, and we hope to see the Senate take positive action soon. While the Legislature is divided on numerous issues this session, the nearly unanimous committee vote in H.F. 701’s favor may indicate the potential for cooperation.

Koehler is optimistic about progress on soil health. “We’re on a strong path to building resilient land, farms, and rural economies,” she said of the process ahead. As the legislative session continues, we hope Minnesotans will continue to speak up in favor of healthy land, clean water, and climate-beneficial farming.

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