Today, several states have healthy soils legislation, recognizing the urgency of the threat of climate change, the prominent role that land management plays in ecosystem restoration and food production, and the need for local efforts in light of today’s federal political climate, and the reality that local solutions hold the greatest potential for climate remediation. Examples include California, Maryland, Hawaii, and most recently New Mexico. Healthy soils programs exist in other countries as well, such as Australia, as do opportunities for farmers to participate in carbon markets, such as in Wales. While existing programs vary quite a bit, they involve a guidepost goal of encouraging farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture principles in their farming practices, decreasing financial barriers to entry and compensating those who provide valuable ecosystem services to the public. Policies involve varying metrics for verifying habitat improvement and other outcomes.
Several other state legislatures have seen repeated efforts to pass healthy soils legislation, agricultural water quality bills, or regenerative agriculture bills, such as Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine. Beyond soil-specific legislation, many states and countries have created agri-environment schemes which aim to facilitate environmental stewardship on agricultural land. Examples include payment for ecosystem services programs, environmental stewardship programs, and the creation of water funds.
Further still, there are many examples of community-led resource management plans that evolved from the ground up to solve conflicts between industries, environmentalists, and regulators, allowing legislators to support local solutions that effectively support the public interest. Examples include Maine’s co-management lobster industry law, Kansas’ watershed restoration plans, and most recently, California’s ongoing initiative to solve water scarcity issues by creating water management districts to solve the problem at the local level.
Research shows that many farmers are stewards of the land and are struggling to continue to provide the benefits of stewardship because of financial barriers. Others intend to steward the land but encounter financial, technical, physical, cultural, or regulatory barriers impeding stewardship. Healthy soils programs create a variety of tools – including financing and technical assistance – to bridge this gap.
States that have passed healthy soils legislation include Hawaii (HB 1578, 2017), Maryland (HB 1063, 2017), Oklahoma (HB 1192, 2001), California (SB 859, 2016), Utah (HCR 8, 2015), and New Mexico HB 204 and SB 218 (2019).
Additionally in 2019, legislation was proposed in Washington (SB 4937, HB 2095), Illinois (SB 1980, HB 2737, HB 2819), Connecticut (HB 6647), Nebraska (LB 243, LB 729, LB 283), Iowa (HSB 78, HF 102), and Massachusetts (SD 1438, HD 3065).
Legislation has been proposed in the past in states like Vermont (S43, 2017) and New York (A3281, 2017). Legislatures in both states are among several across the country engaging in ongoing consideration of various soil health and conservation policies.
For further information on healthy soils legislation in the United States, see Soil4Climate’s ongoing monitoring efforts located at https://www.soil4climate.org/news/healthy-soils-legislation-update-may-2019.