Directly following November’s CalCAN Summit, the National Healthy Soils Policy Network (NHSPN) met in Davis, CA for our In-Person Convening. For those new to the Network, NHSPN is a national group of farmer-centered non-profits, that serves as a clearinghouse and resource-sharing platform for advancing state healthy soils and climate smart agriculture policies. This convening was the 2nd ever in-person gathering since the group’s inception in 2018. Since then, the Network has grown in size, regionality, and capacity, with 12 of the 20 represented states able to join, as well as a representative of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
Over two days, we discussed a range of topics, analyzing our individual policy and base-building practices, reflecting on the Network’s internal resources and strategies, and visioning for our immediate and long-term growth. We divided our time between discussing different state and federal-level strategies, and assessing our current and anticipated needs to advance healthy soils and climate-smart agriculture policies. Our members expressed overwhelming gratitude and value in our time spent together, emphasizing the small-but-significant points of engagement, and new ideas derived from them, that naturally arise with in-person work together.
The members of NHSPN advocate for a wide range of policies in their states, all designed to deliver resources to farmers to encourage their use of practices that enhance soil health. At the in-person convening, one full day was dedicated to giving members time to share tactics and lessons learned. Here is a sample of some of the policy approaches taken by members.
Dakota Resource Council (DRC), North Dakota
There was no legislative session in 2022, so DRC focused on listening to farmers about soil health priorities to lay the groundwork for a future bill. They also worked on advocating for federal Farm Bill funding for climate friendly agriculture, sustainable and organic research, and on-farm renewable energy. Website.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA), Illinois
ISA won a state resolution to declare a “Soil Health Week” in Illinois in 2021, and then worked with their Soil Health Farmer Caucus to organize week-long virtual events highlighting the importance of building soil. Unsuccessfully tried to pass the Nutrient Loss Reduction Act, but secured $68 million in funding for cover crop insurance discounts, the Partners for Conservation Program, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and more. Website.
Kansas Rural Center (KRC), Kansas
For the third time, a bill (HB 2310) was introduced to create the Kansas Healthy Soils Fund and the Kansas Healthy Soils Initiative. It failed to advance, but KRC organized direct farmer feedback about the proposed legislation and engagement with elected officials, and raised awareness about the bill. They intend to seek a Republican co-signer and work with sustainable agriculture allies who have been reluctant to engage in policy advocacy so far. Website.
Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC), Montana
NPRC started a working group to develop a farmer-informed plan to advance soil health in Montana, collaborating with NRCS, the Montana Association of Conservation Districts, and Montana State University to develop surveys and focus groups to engage Montana producers about what they need to advance soil health in the state. Website.
Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), New York
They advocated for state funding to implement the Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act (S4722A/A5386A) passed in 2021, with a focus on the Climate Resilient Farming Program and Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Funding for these two programs increased in FY 2022-2023 from $4.5 million to $16.75 and from $11 million to $14.5 million respectively. Website.
Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network, Oregon
OrCAN advocated for SB 1534, which would have defined natural and working lands and started a process to plan strategies and metrics for increasing carbon sequestration and resilience on the state’s natural and working lands. The bill did not pass but they accomplished more base building and organizing for future policy advocacy. Website.
Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, Pennsylvania
Pasa policy staff developed a Soil Health Policy Pathways report including 18 recommendations to advance soil health in PA. They educated farmers and policymakers about the need for more soil health funding, education, and research, and updated a never-implemented 1992 Sustainable Agriculture Act to address and fund soil health practices, research and education within the state Department of Agriculture and State Conservation Commission. Website.
Vermont Collaborative, Vermont
A range of farmer education and engagement tactics contributed to two victories. The Governor- appointed Commission on the Future of Agriculture released a report identifying a Payment for Ecosystem Services program as a priority strategy for growing Vermont’s food economy, and this was accompanied by a $1 million allocation in the FY2023 budget for continued development of a Payment for Ecosystem Services program that NOFA-VT, Rural Vermont, and the Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition have been helping shape for two years.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake Fair Farms Program, Maryland
Fair Farms and their partners won passage of the Climate Solutions Now Act , which included $500,000 for the Healthy Soils Program. Their Farmer Advisory Council provided critical feedback and guidance on legislative goals, objectives, bill language and strategies. Website.
For more information on NHSPN, our members, and how to get involved, please visit www.soilpolicynetwork.org.