Maine Healthy Soils Policy
Maine Healthy Soils Program
5/19/2021 Passed the Maine Senate unanimously 33-0
6/2/2021 Passed the House without a roll call vote
6/10/2021 Signed by Governor Janet Mills
LD 437/SP179, establishing the Maine Healthy Soils Program
This bill establishes the Maine Healthy Soils Program and the Maine Healthy Soil Fund within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) to promote and expand the use of healthy soils practices among farmers and farmland owners. It requires the ACF to consult with the Department of Environmental Protection and cooperate with the University of Maine, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, state and soil conservation districts and the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service in the development and administration of the program.
The legislation also instructs the Commissioner of Agriculture to conduct education and outreach regarding soil health and encourage farmer-to-farmer learning and networking. Included in the law is an equity clause, stating that program incentives must be equitably distributed to “beginning and socially 36 disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as defined by 7 United States Code, Section 37 2279(a)”.
Soil Health Definition:
The bill does not directly define soil health but refers to “the continuing capacity of soils to function as a vital, living biological system, increase soil organic matter, improve soil structure, strengthen water holding and nutrient holding capacity, improve nutrient cycling and result in net long-term greenhouse gas emissions benefits;”
- “Improve the health, yield and profitability” of the state’s soil;
- Protect biodiversity;
- Provide greenhouse gas emissions benefits;
- “Promote healthy soils agricultural practices based on indigenous knowledge, current understanding and emerging soil science”;
- Expand application of these practices among Maine farmers and landowners.
Program Required Measurements:
The legislation does not list required measurements, but mentions “depth of topsoil horizons, water infiltration rate, water holding capacity, organic carbon content, biologically accessible nutrient content, bulk density, biological activity and biological and microbiological diversity”.
The ACF will use existing budget funds to establish the program. The Maine Healthy Soils Fund will be able to accept public or private contributions to the program.
The Maine Healthy Soil Program is based on voluntary incentives, providing financial and technical assistance to producers, and can be used to fund research.
Practices eligible for funding:
The program aims to advance “healthy soils best practices” as determined by parameters such as increased biodiversity, enhanced resilience to weather extremes, better nutrient detention and improved carbon sequestration. It also refers to the 5 principles of soil health: “minimizing soil disturbance and external inputs: keeping soil covered, maximizing biodiversity, maximizing the presence of living roots and integrating animals into land management, including grazing animals, birds, beneficial insects and keystone species, such as earthworms.”
- Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry
- Maine Department of Environmental Protection
The Maine Healthy Soil Program will be developed by the ACF in consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection, University of Maine, Cooperative Extension, state and soil conservation districts and USDA/NRCS.
State Universities & Researchers:
Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Education & Advocacy Groups:
- Sierra Club Maine Chapter
- Natural Resources Council of Maine
- American Farmland Trust
- Maine Farmland Trust
- Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment
- Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society
- Bumbleroot Organic Farm
- Conservation Law Foundation
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
- Maine Youth for Climate Justice
- Peaked Mountain Farm
- Maine Organic Milk Producers
- The Nature Conservancy in Maine
Maine eyes creation of new soil health program, AP 3/8/2021
Sen. Brenner bill to support healthy soil in Maine wins bipartisan committee support, Maine Senate Democrats 3/16/2021
Legislature Embraces Maine Healthy Soils Program, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association press release 6/3/2021
Last updated 7/5/21