Massachusetts Soil Health Policy

An Act to Promote Healthy Soils and Agricultural Innovation within The Commonwealth


Introduced to House and Senate 1/22/2019

Re-drafted bill passed out of Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, referred to the committee on Senate Ways and Means in fall 2019.

On January 14th, 2021 Gov. Baker signed into law the Massachusetts Healthy Soils legislation as part of the economic development bill (sections 4-8, 13, and 73) that passed the last day of the session on January 6th.


S.2404 Senate (formerly S.438/H.873)


76 cosponsors (as of 4/01/20)


H.3713 An Act to promote healthy soils was a predecessor to this bill in the  2017-2018 session.

S.438/H.873 were redrafted as H.2404 with an expanded scope beyond agriculture, in order to align with a state-funded Healthy Soils Action Plan, to be released at the end of 2020.

Healthy Soils language was passed in Sections 4-8, 13, and 73 of H5250, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth:

Section 8 states the promotion of healthy soils for reducing greenhouse gases and the effects of climate change in the commonwealth. It directs the The Commission for Conservation of Soil, Water and Related Resources to assist in the development of a healthy soils program, as instructed by the Director in consultation with other agencies, to establish the Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program.

The purpose of the healthy soils program is to “encourage and promote the use of healthy soils policies and practices by private and public landowners, including commercial farmers and any assistance available to program participants, which may consist of grants, technical assistance or education on the benefits and implementation of healthy soils best practices.”

Section 2OOOOO establishes a separate state fund to be known as the Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program Fund to support the program administered by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and established and implemented by the The Commission for Conservation of Soil, Water and Related Resources.

Soil Health Definition:

“Soils that enhance their continuing capacity to function as a biological system, increase soil organic matter, improve soil structure and water- and nutrient-holding capacity, and result in net long-term greenhouse gas benefits.”

Stated Goals:

  • To improve soil health and carbon storage on agricultural lands as well as forests, parks, urban and suburban gardens and non-paved outdoor areas in general;
  • To provide co-benefits “related to climate change, plant growth, erosion control and water absorption and quality”

Program Required Measurements:

  • N/A

Tools & Guidance: 

  • To be determined 

Funding Source/s:

  • Bill moves to establish a separate MA state fund to be known as the Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program Fund. 
  • Revenue sources:
    • (1) Any revenue subject to appropriation from the Gaming Economic Development Fund, established pursuant to section 2DDDD of chapter 29
    • (2) Any revenue subject to appropriations or other money authorized by the general court and specifically designated to be credited to the fund and 
    • (3) Any gifts, grants, private contributions, investment income earned by the fund’s assets, and any other sources of funds so designated. 

Funding Type/s:

  • Grants 
  • Education and outreach

Practices Eligible for Funding

  • Eligible practices must “provide 1 or more of the following benefits: improve food production; encourage the health, growth and biological diversity of plants and forests; increase water infiltration reducing stormwater runoff; provide drought and crop resilience, enhance water quality; and reduce the use of fertilizers and herbicides; and provide greenhouse gas benefits.”
  • Funds may also be used to provide grants or loans on a competitive basis to public, private and charitable entities to finance projects in furtherance of the Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program. 

Agencies Involved

Rulemaking Process

  • To be determined 

State Universities & Researchers: 

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups:

Endorsing organizations: 

350 Lowell node, American Farmland Trust, Berkshire Grown, Biodiversity for a Liveable Climate, Bionutrient Food Association, Boston Catholic Climate Movement, Central Mass Grown, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Climate Action Business Association, Cooper Shop Farm, Conservation Law Foundation, Earthjustice, Elders Climate Action Massachusetts​, Endever Agriculture Group, LLC, ​Find the Good and Braise It, Franklin County CDC, Grow Food Northampton, HealthLink, Island Grown Initiative, Lexington Community Farm Coalition, Long Life Farm, Mass Assoc. of Conservation Districts, Mass. Audubon, Mass. Farm Bureau Federation, Mass. Food System Collaborative, Massachusetts Forest Alliance, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Mothers Out Front, Mystic River Watershed Association, New England Farmers Union, New England Small Farm Institute, Ocean River Institute, Pioneer Valley Biochar Initiative (PVBI), Regeneration Massachusetts, Shared Harvest CSA, Sierra Club Massachusetts, Soil4Climate, South Meadow Farm & Research Center, Sustainable Business Network, The Trustees​, The Carrot Project, The Garden Artist, The Nature Conservancy, Western Mass. Climate Action Now, Wright-Locke Farm

Lessons Learned:

  • Healthy soils legislation can lower the barrier to entry for farmers by providing economic incentives and reducing risk to producers  
  • “We attract the life we expect, we attract the legislative success we expect.” Advocate groups for this policy in Massachusetts note that there is no real opposition to the legislation of this nature: the majority of constituents and legislators value farming, food production and therefore soil health. They encourage advocates to enter their statehouses expecting collaboration, not resistance.  
  • Make consensus-building a core part of the process and continue to improve it throughout. In Massachusetts, consensus-building occurred around the exercise of defining “healthy soil”. There was the work of building consensus, then creating legislation around that consensus. Other states may write legislation then build consensus around it. All constituents should be aware they have the right to engage with policy-writing and advocacy.
  • Work to identify the common language. People are not all clear communicators, and it is more important to understand what people mean than listen to exactly what they say. Many people think they disagree on things they actually agree on. In reality, they are often just emphasizing different elements of similar perspectives using different language.  
  • Tools that increase the visibility of constituent interest in this area are helpful. For example,  create a map marking the number of farmers or groups in each district engaging with this issue. The legislative team may then recruit representatives from those districts to assist in promoting the legislation or take similar action.

Next Steps: 

Suggested Actions: 

(1) add soil health and water ecosystem health to soil and water conservation district law, 

(2) add soil health visibility in food policy councils, if the law creates a food policy council,

(3) add soil health visibility in climate change, if addressed in the law, 

(4) create a fund to support healthy soils programs, and (5) define who and how the healthy soils program is administered, 

and (6) define healthy soils, water ecosystem health, food system, food system efficiency, and food security, as needed.

Media :

Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology Do the Job? (NOFA MASS) 

Farmer Drive-In for Healthy Soils Advocacy (NOFA MASS)

New State Program to Build Healthy Soils, Climate Resilience (NOFA MASS)

Last updated 8/6/21