New Mexico Healthy Soil Policy

Healthy Soil Program

Dates:

Signed into law April 2019

NM Healthy Soil Program began at the start of the 2020 fiscal year

Legislation:

Created by SB 218 / HB 204 Healthy Soil Act

Codified in Ch. 76, art. 25 NMSA 1978

Sponsor/s:

Description:

This Act directs the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) to establish and oversee a voluntary Healthy Soil Program which will provide incentives in the form of education, research, grants, and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers and other land managers.

The program will provide grants for projects that enhance soil health on working lands. In addition, the program will measure baseline soil health by testing the organic matter, water infiltration rate, microbiology, aggregate stability of soils, soil cover, and analysis of phospholipids on behalf of the producers.

Funding comes from the State’s General Fund and flows through the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to facilitate and implement the program. Due to the state’s anti-donation law, eligible entities (such as Soil and Water Conservation Districts, land grants, acequias and NM tribes, pueblos or Indian nations) act as fiscal sponsors and handle administrative tasks and outreach on behalf of farmers and ranchers for soil health projects. New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service, while listed as eligible entity in the law, can’t act as such.

Soil Health Definition:

“Soil that enhances its continuing capacity to function as a biological system increases its organic matter and improves its structure and water- and nutrient-holding capacity”

Stated Goals:

“The purpose of the program is to promote and support farming and ranching systems and other forms of land management that increase soil organic matter, aggregate stability, microbiology and water retention to improve thehealth, yield and profitability of the soils of the state.”

Program Required Measurements: 

The program defines five soil health principles:

  • 1) keep soil covered; 
  • 2) minimize soil disturbance on cropland and minimize external inputs; 
  • 3) maximize biodiversity; 
  • 4) maintain living roots; and 
  • 5) integrate animals including grazing animals, birds, beneficial insects and keystone species such as earthworms. 

Tools & Guidance:

The official website of the NM Healthy Soil Program serves as landing page for information about the program and upcoming grant opportunities, when applicable.

Information is being updated regularly and includes press releases, downloadable application materials, FAQ, soil testing and assessment requirements and infographics to visualize the different components of the Healthy Soil Act.

Funding Source/s:

  • FY2019: $375,000 from the Junior Budget Bill which allows state legislators to allocate an allotment of General Fund monies to specific projects. Additional funds ($100,000) from NRCS were added to the program.
    • 133 applications for pilot project grants were received, of which 19 were funded.
    • 84 applications for educational projects were received, of which 19 were funded.
    • A train-the-trainers education project with Coop Extension was also funded.
  • FY2020: $260,000 available, including $130,000 from NRCS. State funding is now included in NMDA’s budget and is deemed recurring.
    • RFP for project grants was released July 24, 2020.
    • There will be no educational grants in FY2020 except for funding of the ongoing Coop Extension train-the-trainers program.
  • FY2021: Total of $367,000 available, comprised of $217,000 in NMDA’s budget dedicated to the Healthy Soil Program (reduction due to agency wide budget cuts in response to the coronavirus crisis), $50,000 Junior money and $100,000 from NRCS.
    • RFP for project grants expected to be released in May 2021.

Funding Type/s: 

  • Split between education, grants, administration, research, and soil testing.

Practices Eligible for Funding:

  • There are no specific eligible practices. Instead, grant applications are being evaluated on their ability to advance one or more of the “Five Principles of Soil Health” as codified in the law.

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking Process:

  • New Mexico has a less prescriptive way of governing than other states, which means that in general, less detailed statute is preferred and the rulemaking process often takes place within agencies. In this case, the NM Department of Agriculture developed the Healthy Soil Program framework in consultation with stakeholders. Long term engagement will be necessary to ensure success.

State Universities & Researchers:

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups:

Lessons Learned: 

  • Coalition and consensus building was at the heart of the short and successful campaign to pass the Healthy Soil Act. The Healthy Soil Working Group brought together an extensive coalition of over 100 food and agriculture related organizations, as well as environmental groups and dozens of farms and ranches. With this supportive network, the bill was introduced in January 2019, received bipartisan support in the house and unanimous backing in the senate, and was signed into law by the governor on April 2, 2019.
  • Focusing on the many benefits of healthy soils in terms of water availability and quality, ecological benefits, farm economies, and revival of rural communities and emphasizing the voluntary approach was vital in solidifying support for the bill.
  • Draft language related to climate change such as mention of “greenhouse gases” or “carbon” was removed which helped to overcome initial opposition to the bill from the NM Farm and Livestock Bureau and other organizations. A listing of recommended practices such as no-till also proved too sensitive and was dropped during the amendment process.
  • Building trust with partners was critical to the success of the bill. This came from adapting terminology as well as commitment and time dedicated to building consensus.
  • Support from the NM Association of Conservation Districts and NM Farm and Livestock Bureau was critical to achieving unanimous passage of the bill.  
  • New Mexico has a diverse farming and ranching community. To ensure equity, Native American tribes, acequias, and Land Grants are explicitly named as eligible entities to receive funding through the Healthy Soil Program. Projects in underserved communities, or serving veterans or young farmers receive priority.
  • The NM Healthy Soil Act is focused on soil health principles as opposed to listing a prescribed set of specific practices. This approach protects the law from the need to be amended continually to include new practices into the canon in order to reflect emerging science and application.
  • Focusing on the soil health principles presents a broadly accepted, adaptive, supportive, and thorough approach to stewardship. Empowering producers to make management decisions guided by these principles and based on their own observations takes into account each farm’s unique situation, acknowledges producers’ self-determination, and promotes deeper learning and lasting commitments.

Media:


Healthy Soil Tax Refund Contribution Option

Date:

Signed into law April 6, 2021

Legislation:

HB 89

Sponsor/s:

Description:

This bill adds a new section to the Income Tax Act. It enables New Mexico residents who qualify for a state tax refund to voluntarily contribute all or part of their refund to the Healthy Soil Program administered by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA). It includes language to be added to the state income tax form.

Soil Health Definition:

N/A

Stated Goals:

None

Program Required Measurements:

N/A

Tools:

N/A

Funding Source:

Personal income tax refunds

Funding Type:

Funds received are designated to support the Healthy Soil Program.

Practices eligible for funding:

N/A

Agencies involved:

Rulemaking process:

The Healthy Soil Tax Refund Contribution Option will be added to 17 already existing contribution options listed on the state income tax form.

State Universities & Researchers:

N/A

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

N/A

Education & Advocacy Groups:

The New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group drafted the bill and conducted a grassroots advocacy campaign through their network and in coalition with partner organizations, including the NM Food & Agriculture Policy Council, National Young Farmers Coalition, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, NM Farm and Livestock Bureau and the NM Association of Conservation Districts.

Lessons Learned:

  • The bill had bi-partisan sponsors and passed all committees with unanimous support, cleared the House floor unanimously and received only one dissenting vote in the Senate. This exceptional amount of bipartisan support in the legislature built on two years of successful administration of the Healthy Soil Program by NMDA. It also reflects a growing understanding of the importance of soil stewardship for New Mexico in relation to drought resilience, water conservation and climate change mitigation.
  • Promotion and outreach will be essential to inform the public of this new tax refund contribution option and generate much needed funds for the Healthy Soil Program. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of soil health for public health and the environment and engage civic society in supporting producers who practice soil stewardship.

Media:


Resources

2020 report NM Food & Farm Economy, prepared by the Crossroads Resource Center, commissioned by NM Healthy Soil Working Group
Blog post: New Mexico could gain economically by building soil health and feeding its own people.

2021 report Building Soil Health in New Mexico, prepared by the Crossroads Resource Center for the NM Healthy Soil Working Group
Blog post: New report examines socio-economic benefits of soil health for New Mexico farms and ranches


Last updated 4/15/21


Questions?

Contact Isabelle Jenniches, NM Healthy Soil Working Group at NewMexico@healthysoilspolicy.org