Legislation Provides MN Opportunity to Become National Leader in Building Soil Health on Farmland

Conference Committee Action Needed this Month on Farmer-Authored Proposals

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The fate of a set of soil health proposals that would make Minnesota a national leader in farming systems that protect its waters while sequestering carbon lies this month in the hands of two House-Senate conference committees. Farmer-members of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) say the various initiatives they crafted and which were recently passed by the Minnesota House would play a key role in creating a more resilient landscape, economically and ecologically.

“Farmers are suffering economically, and our environment is starting to say, ‘I need help,’ ” said LSP member Tom Cotter, who raises crops and livestock near the Cedar River in Mower County. “We can manage these twin crises by focusing on a common solution: building healthier soil.”

The proposals, which are based on the original “100% Soil-Healthy Farming Bill” that was introduced in February by Representative Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) and Senator Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), sets statewide goals and creates a program to provide farmers with accessible grants and direct payments for the adoption of practices that build healthy soil in the long term. The proposals passed through several legislative committees with bipartisan support.

During the past decade, there has been an explosion of interest on the part of farmers and scientists in how techniques such as managed rotational grazing, cover cropping, perennial cropping and no-till systems can build soil health in an economically viable manner.

The goal of the LSP soil health proposals is to remove financial barriers that often limit farmers’ ability to put in place innovative, soil-smart measures. For example, the House version of the Omnibus Legacy Finance Bill provides $11.3 million to help farmers implement soil-healthy practices on their farms. The House’s Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Bill appropriates $1 million to establish a soil health practices cost share program for farmers and sets a voluntary, statewide goal of having 30% of Minnesota farmland utilizing soil-healthy practices by 2030.

The Senate versions of these bills, authored by Senators Carrie Ruud (GOP-Breezy Point) and Bill Ingebrigtsen (GOP-Alexandria), do not fund soil health measures. As a senior conferee on both the Legacy and Environment conference committees, Sen. Ruud has an outsized role to play in determining if these provisions will pass. LSP has drafted letters to the conferees who are debating the Environment and Natural Resources Bill (S.F. 959) and the Legacy Finance Bill (H.F. 1079), calling for the final legislation to strongly support soil healthy practices.

Experience in states like Indiana, Illinois and Iowa has shown that public cost-share and grant programs can play a significant role in increasing the number of agricultural acres being managed utilizing soil healthy practices. Such state-based programs often prime the pump for attracting federal conservation funds for agriculture.

LSP member Bryan Simon, who raises grass-fed livestock on the shores of Cormorant Lake in Grant County, said it's exciting to see all of the recent innovations in building healthy soil in pastures and crop fields, but farmers need help transitioning into a different way of managing the land.

"These practices take time and persistence to get right, but are worth the investment both for farmers and the public,” he said. “The conferees can help farmers take that first step toward making the state a national leader in building healthy, resilient soil."