The National Healthy Soils Policy Network (the Network) is a group of farmer-centered organizations that advocate for state policies on behalf of sustainable, organic, beginning, minority and/or family farmers. Since CalCAN launched it in 2018, the Network has steadily grown to include representatives from 25 states stretching from the Pacific Northwest to the South.
Network members share policy strategies that advance state soil health and incentivize climate smart practices, report on lessons learned through the process and learn from topic experts. With the support of the Network, members and their farmer and rancher partners have helped advance numerous soil health policies. Their activities have spanned the entire policy process from the concept stage all the way through to bill implementation and program funding.
For example, this year the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota is focused on engaging rural communities and black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) organizations and farmers to develop and advocate for soil health legislation. In Vermont, a coalition of healthy soils advocates, including Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition and Rural Vermont, are organizing famers and agricultural leaders of color to share their soil health expertise in public policy discussions. The Kansas Rural Center is carrying out a statewide farmer survey to better understand what producers need from soil health policies to inform their advocacy work. You can find a complete list of Network members and learn more about their policy projects here.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter (NOFA/Mass) has been working tirelessly for four years to create and pass the MA Healthy Soils Bill. Early in 2021, this bill was signed into law and established a program to provide incentives, education and technical assistance to farmers who adopt healthy soils practices. Last year, with financial support from the Network, NOFA/Mass built support for the Healthy Soils Bill by organizing a farmer drive-in, bringing over 20 farmers to the state capitol to meet with over 30 legislative offices. Engaging these farmers was key to the bill’s passage, says Marty Dagoberto, Policy Director at NOFA/Mass, as it helped raise the visibility of the issue. NOFA/Mass will continue to work with partners to secure funding for the program.
Further west, in North Dakota a soil health bill was recently introduced, sponsored by the Dakota Resource Council (DRC). This bill builds on existing language for soil conservation within the state, highlighting the importance of soil restoration and health, and creates a statewide network that connects producer groups, soil experts, conservation groups and individual soil health champions to aid in knowledge and resource sharing. DRC is also working with the budget committee in the North Dakota State House to secure appropriations to make cover crop seeds more affordable for farming operations across the state.
President Biden’s recently announced Executive Order on Climate Change focuses the federal spotlight on agriculture’s ability to address the climate crisis. Fortunately, there are several National Healthy Soils Policy Network members that provide models for how climate goals such as these can be achieved through incentives and resources for growers.