Minnesota Healthy Soils Policy

PENDING 100% Soil-Healthy Farming Bill

Date:

Introduced February 2021

Legislation: 

HF 701 / SF 1113

Sponsor/s:

Description:

This is a comprehensive soil health bill that provides all the resources Minnesota farmers need to scale up soil- and resiliency-building practices and achieve 100% Soil-Healthy Farming in Minnesota. The bill provides motivating and accessible up-front grants and up to five years of direct payments to ensure soil-healthy practices are profitable from day one. It sets the following state-wide, voluntary goals:

  • 50% of Minnesota farmers to implement soil-healthy practices by 2030
  • 100% of Minnesota farmers to implement soil-healthy practices by 2035
  • 100% of grazable and tillable acres implementing soil-healthy practices by 2040

The bill advances racial, economic, gender, and disability justice by prioritizing Black, brown, and Indigenous farmers, women farmers, farmers with disabilities and prioritizing grants and direct payments based on farm size.

Finally, there is a provision to collect data to deepen understanding of how specific practices impact soil health in different soil profiles across the state.

Soil Health Definition:

Already in MN law: “Soil health” means the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system that sustains plants, animals, and humans.

Indicators of soil health include water infiltration capacity; organic matter content; water holding capacity; biological capacity to break down plant residue and other substances and to maintain soil aggregation; nutrient sequestration and cycling capacity; carbon sequestration; and soil resistance.

Stated Goals:

To increase farm income, build soil health, prevent or minimize erosion and runoff, retain and clean water, increase vegetation on the landscape, sequester carbon, and foster healthier rural residents and pollinators and other wildlife.

Program Required Measurements:

As soil science is emerging, the funding does not depend on results, however there is a provision to collect data to deepen understanding of how specific practices impact soil health in different soil profiles across the state.

Tools:

N/A

Funding Source:

General Fund through Board of Water and Soil Resources

Funding Type:

Combination of up-front grants to kick-start new practices and up to five years of direct payments to sustain such practices.

Practices eligible for funding:

Managed rotational grazing, perennial cropping, cover cropping, interseeding, roller-crimping, no-till, organic.

Agencies Involved:

Rule making process:

No rule making needed, but implementation decisions will need to be made by assigned agencies.

State Universities & Researchers:

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups:

Supporting organizations:

  • Audubon Minnesota
  • Austin (Chapter 10) of the Izaak Walton League of America
  • Cannon River Watershed Partnership
  • Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition
  • Clean Up our River Environment
  • Clean Water Action
  • Climate Generation
  • Community Power
  • COPAL
  • Ecolibrium3
  • Environment MN
  • The Food Group / Big River Farms
  • Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas
  • Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
  • Friends of the Mississippi River
  • Greener Pastures
  • HEAL Food Alliance
  • Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate
  • Hmong American Farmers Association
  • Honor the Earth
  • Humane Society of the United States
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • ISAIAH
  • Izaak Walton League of America
  • Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance
  • Land Stewardship Project
  • Latino Economic Development Center
  • Main Street Alliance of Minnesota
  • Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
  • Minnesota Environmental Partnership
  • Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light
  • Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter
  • Minnesota Trout Unlimited
  • Minnesota Well Owners Organization
  • Native Sun
  • Pesticide Action Network
  • Pollinator Friendly Alliance
  • Renewing the Countryside
  • Sierra Club North Star Chapter
  • SEIU Healthcare Minnesota
  • TakeAction Minnesota
  • UNIDOS
  • Voices for Racial Justice
  • Vote Climate
  • YEA! MN
  • 100% Campaign

Lessons Learned:

  • Working within a split legislature is challenging. While the bill ultimately did not pass the legislature, favorable budget negotiations in the House resulted in allocation of $5.35 million to get more soil-healthy practices onto the landscape. However, the compromise goal of 30% of farmland employing soil-healthy practices by 2030 was not included in the final budget and policy bill.
  • Organizers engaged in a large outreach effort (all taking place during the pandemic), holding virtual listening sessions as well as small group and one-on-one sessions. Over 600 stakeholders were involved and heavily influenced the bill language, which was written by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) together with the legislative champion.
  • Being able to engage with people virtually turned out to be really powerful, especially having farmers testify from their farm, sometimes showing the farm in the background. Minnesota is a big geographic state –when stakeholders don’t have to travel the process becomes more inclusive and accessible. In the future, it would be good to be able to engage stakeholders both virtually and in person.
  • While this is a brand new bill for Minnesota, we learned a lot from other efforts in the US, e.g. Maryland and other cost-share programs. We called it an ”aggressive state-level CSP” in order to communicate that this program is additive to the federal Conservation Stewardship Program. It is needed because 75% of farmers eligible for federal conservation funding get turned away. Up front costs to implement soil health practices are real!
  • It’s important to talk to allies ahead of time, especially around the racial justice piece. While LSP has a mostly white membership, we worked with Voices for Racial Justice, Latino Economic Development Center and others to figure out how to prioritize funding the people that need it most: BIPOC, and women as well as small-and midsize farmers. We called it rural economic justice and emphasized that farms are small businesses that need to be supported.
  • Those that are most impacted make the most effective spokespeople! Testimony from farmers that are struggling to get started with soil health practices –e.g. young farmers that don’t have the upfront capital– can be more powerful than a farmer that has been implementing soil health for years.
  • When introducing a bill, start with the biggest, bold vision and then negotiate what’s possible. Start with collaborative tactics, but don’t shy away from respectful confrontation when necessary. Grassroots organizing is essential in providing the necessary push to reach a daring goal –we even knocked on doors in pivotal districts. It was fun! 
  • Next steps: the Board of Water and Soil Resources will need time to develop a soil health program and build an application. They want to do it well and ensure that it is successful. The program will probably be funneled through the Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Organizers are continuing to meet with stakeholders and the board to support a successful implementation and ensure that racial justice is actualized.
  • Funding allocations of $5.35 million for two years (budget years July 2021-June 2023) is a great start but not even close to the scale of what is needed. Solutions need to be at the same scale as the challenge of climate change!
  • 2022 is not a budget year in Minnesota, organizers will keep working on policy and goal setting. Minnesota’s entire house, senate and governor are up for election in 2022.

Media:

The Story Behind LSP’s Soil Health & Climate Campaign, LSP blog June 24, 2021

Resources

University of Minnesota Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration Initiative: Developed and disseminated pertinent information about biological carbon sequestration in ecosystems in Minnesota. It provided a forum for academic, government, and general audiences on a range of ecological, economic, and institutional issues. The goal of the Initiative was to identify, test, and build support for carbon management strategies that benefit rural economies, regional environments, and the climate. (Land-grant university)


Last updated 7/23/21


Questions?

Contact the Land Stewardship Project policy team at Minnesota@healthysoilspolicy.org