Maine’s Legislature will consider numerous bills seeking to implement Gov. Mills’ four-year plan for climate action. One of these bills centers on the role that healthy soil plays in helping farmers become more resilient to the impacts of climate change, while increasing agricultural production and farm profitability and reducing greenhouse gases. Soil is the backbone of our state’s agricultural sector, and keeping it healthy is key to ensuring that our farmers and ecosystems thrive despite a changing climate.

Soil health can be measured in many ways, but there are some overarching qualities that all healthy soils have in common. They are rich in organic matter and biodiversity, have a strong structure and hold high amounts of water and nutrients. With time and repeated use, soils degrade, resulting in erosion, nutrient- and water-holding issues and lower crop yields. Continually improving soil health helps reduce these effects, keeping crop productivity high, lowering farm production costs and making farms more resilient to extreme weather conditions, like the disastrous drought that hurt farm families across the state last summer.

Democratic state Sen. Stacy Brenner’s bill, L.D. 437 – An Act To Create the Maine Healthy Soils Program, will create a one-stop shop for farmers seeking information about how to keep their soils healthy. This information could include healthy soils land management practices and the associated technical assistance services to implement them, as well as connections to other farmers successfully using these practices and funding opportunities to support continued use.

While various entities in Maine provide excellent resources to help farmers implement healthy soils practices, farmers’ access to those resources would be much improved through a coordinated state program housed in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and supported by the Department of Environmental Protection. L.D. 437 would establish such coordination. The program also would elevate the expertise of farmers who already are implementing healthy soils practices, as well as the technical support offered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Soil & Water Conservation District Offices, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and others – helping to ensure farmers have easy access to existing expertise.

Maine’s congressional delegation advocates strongly for our agricultural community and has emphasized the need to support farmers struggling with dramatic and unpredictable swings in weather patterns. Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is at the forefront of this discussion, shepherding reintroduction of the Agriculture Resilience Act, a roadmap to sequester more carbon in the soil and reduce overall greenhouse-gas emissions by supporting farmers. Pingree’s bill and other proposals in Congress emphasize the importance of states having healthy soils programs in order to receive future federal funding in support of soil health resources we should ensure are available for Maine farmers.

With the adoption of L.D. 437, Maine would be joining several states across the country that have recognized the value of healthy soils through establishing a state-level program. In fact, 11 states already have passed healthy soils legislation, and 14 state legislatures currently have healthy soils bills under consideration. As federal dollars for such programs become more available, this number is likely to increase.

As House Agriculture Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., recently stated, “We have got to make sure our soils maintain the rich level of carbon that is needed. If we don’t have carbon sequestration down where we need it, we could be in serious trouble. This is the foremost issue facing our food security, the viability of our farmers and ranchers, and the entire food supply chain. Our survival rests with making sure that we totally approach climate change from foremost the survival of our farmers and our food production.”

Our organizations couldn’t agree more.

The Legislature should pass L.D. 437 and help all of Maine’s farmers access the knowledge and resources that they need to build the health of their soils, the climate and Maine’s agricultural economy.

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