Agriculture

Policies that promote healthy soil and regenerative agriculture, and reduce food waste

Soil Health & Regenerative Agriculture Governance

Soil Health & Regenerative Agriculture Governance

Enacting effective agricultural legislation requires access to extensive economic, scientific, and practical knowledge. States can establish agricultural “bodies,” including task forces or working groups, to attain the appropriate background information and lay the groundwork for building and initiating comprehensive carbon sequestration and soil health policy. Task forces typically consist of members from state agencies and departments relating to agriculture, land and natural resources, and environmental health, as well as experts and regional representatives from academia, agribusiness, producers, and environmental organizations. Their responsibilities often include the identification of agricultural best practices in the given state’s geographic, climatic, and geological context.

These best practices are typically outlined in a report or “Action Plan” outlining policy options a state can employ. Upon the action plan’s presentation to the state legislature and/or governor, these bodies may be disbanded. 

Some states — like Oregon — may hire a specialist in their Department of Agriculture to provide in-house soil health expertise and fulfill similar objectives to task forces. Duties include collaborating with state agencies, researchers and farmers; building relationships with other states with enacted programs, pursuing funding, coordinating training and education initiatives, and ultimately developing strategies and recommendations for implementation of soil health legislation in their state.

Key Resources

    Model States

    • Nebraska LB.243 — C the Healthy Soils Task Force, which was responsible for developing a Healthy Soils Initiative for the state, and an action plan. The action plan, which has since been released, was required to include examining: financial incentives to farmers for soil health, the role of livestock in soil health, etc.
    • Expert Position in the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA)
    • Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils — A coalition of organizations that succeeded in getting legislation passed to create a “Voluntary Soil Health Program.” Listening groups ensure that CCHS is producer-informed, and the Collaborative is working to increase the technical assistance capacity of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
    • California’s Healthy Soils Program – a collaboration of state agencies and departments to promote the development of healthy soils on California’s farmlands and ranchlands.

      Financial and Technical Assistance

      Financial Incentive and Assistance Programs

      States may allocate funding towards financial incentive and grant programs supporting regenerative practices. Commonly paired with other forms of state assistance, these programs encourage and facilitate the voluntary adoption and continued practice of environmentally beneficial farming methods. Incentives may include reduced crop insurance premiums, property tax exemptions, or direct financial assistance through grants or cost-share programs. Another form of financial assistance is providing per-acre rewards from available state funding to farmers who employ soil health practices.

      Targeted practices are those which have been identified — often by organizations, state agencies, or task forces — to promote soil health, water quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and, ultimately, crop yields. 

      Common soil health practices include:

      • Conservation tillage, or minimizing the frequency of the harmful tillage operations that erode soil and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
      • Planting cover crops, which are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. These crops, also known as “green manures” manage soil erosion and provide organic matter and nutrients. Beans, peas, oats, wheat, and rye are all examples of cover crops
      • Crop rotation, or planting different crops sequentially on the same land in order to improve soil health and maximize nutrient sequestration. Maximizing biodiversity has numerous environmental benefits. 
      • Minimizing the use of chemicals and fertilizers in order to reduce long-term damage to soil health. Half of U.S. agricultural emissions are related to synthetic fertilizers and manure, with most of these emissions coming from nitrous oxide.

      Key Resources

        Model States

        • California SB.1028 — Environmental Farming Incentive Program; SB.1028 would have established and created the California Environmental Farming Incentive Program to support on-farm practices that optimize environmental benefits while economically supporting agriculture through incentives, education and outreach. This program also would have funded on-farm demonstration projects. The bill emphasizes practices and projects that provide agronomic and environmental co-benefits such as water quantity and quality, and improved fish and wildlife habitat.
        • Utah H.B. 296 — Creates the Utah Soil Health Program
        • Washington’s Sustainable Farms and Fields Grant Program — provides financial assistance to voluntary farmers and ranchers who adopt practices that reduce fossil fuel inputs in their operations and increase the quantity of carbon stored on their land.
        • New York’s proposed Carbon Farming Act — would establish a tax credit for farmers who maximize carbon sequestration potential through a “carbon farming” land management strategy.
        • Vermont’s S160 and H525 — requiring a state agency to recommend financial incentives for farmers to improve soil health, and establishing multiple assistance programs to support regenerative farming practices and improve soil quality.

              Technical Assistance and State-Coordinated Educational Programs

              State-provided technical assistance and educational opportunities help ensure the successful on-farm implementation of best practices. Through these programs, farmers are familiarized with soil health best practices and state incentive programs, and are assisted by those with experience in regenerative farming. State-produced educational materials and workshops can be made available to funding recipients, and experiential knowledge can also be shared through apprentice/mentorship programs and networks. Technical assistance and farmer education programs can help to raise awareness about state-funded programs, and ensure regenerative agriculture practices are widely used.

              Key Resources

              Model States

              • Washington SB 6306 Washington Soil Health initiative — The Washington Soil Health Initiative promotes collaborative research, education, demonstration projects, and technical assistance activities designed to identify, promote, and implement soil health stewardship practices. Technical assistance capacity may come through training and on-farm demonstration projects. Training can specifically be about taking ongoing soil health samples and measurements to submit to the soil health monitoring database.
              • Utah HB 296 Soil Health Program under Conservation Commission — The program shall encourage widespread adoption of soil health practices by producers; promote environmental benefits; advance the understanding of the environmental and economic benefits of soil health practices by producers, policymakers, consumers, and the general public.
                • New Mexico SB 204 Healthy Soil Act 2019 — assistance provided to a farmer or rancher to achieve the purpose of the Healthy Soil Act, including financial assistance or assistance with project planning, project design, grant applications, project implementation or project reporting; contribute to healthy soils and includes a soil and water conservation district; sponsoring soil health workshops and training sessions at research centers and learning sites throughout the state
                • Maryland SB 1063 Healthy Soils Program — provide incentives, including research education technical assistance and financial assistance to farmers to implement farm management practices that contribute to healthy soils

                      Food Waste Bans and Recycling Requirements

                      Food Waste Bans and Recycling Requirements

                      Organic food waste, primarily food scraps, are often thrown away and ultimately decompose in landfills, releasing methane and potentially polluting waterways. Composting is an effective method of recycling organic waste, keeping it out of landfills and generating value as compost can be used to sustainably fertilize crop lands. 

                      To reduce the amount of food sent to landfills, and, as a result, greenhouse gas emissions, states may pass either food waste bans or waste recycling laws. These policies prohibit certain entities that generate specified amounts of food waste from sending this waste to landfills, subject to exceptions. These typically apply to commercial businesses and larger institutions, although some apply to residential food waste as well. Setting food waste reduction targets is another policy option states can implement to ensure more food is kept out of landfills and donated or composted instead.

                      Key Resources

                      Model States

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