Regenerative Soils Bill Proposed in Vermont Legislature
Measure Aims to Clean Lakes, Support Family Farms, Sequester Carbon
January 28, 2017 — THETFORD, Vermont — Soil4Climate today announced that Vermont Senate Bill S.43, “an act relating to establishing a regenerative soils program” — originated by Soil4Climate Advisory Board member and Shaftsbury, Vermont farmer Jesse McDougall — has been submitted to the Vermont Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. The proposed bill aims to encourage farming practices that improve soil health and to incentivize ecosystem restoration. It will also provide a host of additional economic and environmental benefits, including “increasing the carbon sequestration capability of Vermont soils [and] reducing the amount of sediment and waste entering the waters of the State.” The legislation was sponsored by Senator Brian Campion and co-sponsored by Senators Bray, Clarkson, Pearson, Pollina, and Sears.
Increasing the amount of carbon in soil boosts fertility and its ability to hold water, resulting in less need for fertilizer and reduced water pollution. Importantly, keeping nutrients in soil can eliminate the eutrophication plaguing Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways. Further advantages include increased biodiversity, enhanced drought resilience and flood resistance, and improved forage nutrition.
The Vermont proposal is precedent-setting in calling for the creation of a Director of Regenerative Soils to oversee the program. Regular soil testing will be used to certify farms showing a steady improvement in soil health (i.e., carbon content) and/or quantity (i.e., depth). This proposed bill follows on the heels of other pro-soil health legislation enacted in recent years in California, Oklahoma, and Utah.
S.43 also includes a consumer-facing label program to identify farms practicing regenerative ecological stewardship; a provision for the Director of Regenerative Soils to address issues of concern — such as crop insurance — to farms transitioning from conventional to regenerative agriculture; and a mechanism to provide child care grants to struggling farm families with young children.
Commenting on the bill’s goals, McDougall stated: “When soil loses its carbon through decades of plowing and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, it is no longer able to retain nutrients that instead flow into rivers and lakes, causing the algal blooms we’re now seeing. This bill provides an incentive to farmers to rebuild the soil ‘sponge’ above Lake Champlain and across the state — keeping water and nutrients uphill and in the soil where they belong.”
The bill has emotional origins. Jesse and his wife, Cally, assumed operation of their farm following the untimely death of the farm’s previous owner, Cally’s aunt, Edie Tschorn, who passed away in 2012 at age 56 as a result of brain cancer. “Fearing a possible link between the chemicals used on the farm and Edie’s cancer, we stopped spraying on the farm as soon as we could,” said McDougall. “Unfortunately, though, once the spraying ended, our lush and productive fields became dry, gravelly, and full of washouts. Years of chemical treatment and tillage had damaged our soil and the fertility of our farm, essentially making us dependent on more chemicals and tillage in order to produce crops. This led to our decision to practice regenerative farming, including the use of planned grazing, which we soon realized was a better alternative to conventional agriculture — ecologically and economically.”
Seth Itzkan, cofounder of Soil4Climate, stated, “Halting emissions from fossil fuels, although absolutely necessary, is inadequate to prevent catastrophic consequences from global warming. A companion effort is needed to remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere and store it safely in soils where it results in many benefits. The new bill recognizes farmers who are doing that.”
Details on S.43 are at http://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2018/S.43
For a summary of international, federal, state, and local legislation promoting soil restoration, see http://www.soil4climate.org/policy
A personal statement from Jesse McDougall may be found at http://studiohill.farm/personal-thoughts-upcoming-vermont-regenerative-soils-program-legislation/
Soil4Climate advocates for regenerative cropping and grazing practices to heal land, improve soil fertility, return flow to dried-up rivers, restore wildlife habitat, and revitalize rural economies while sequestering atmospheric carbon. Join the worldwide Soil4Climate community of scientists, farmers, policy makers, journalists, and concerned global citizens at http://www.facebook.com/groups/Soil4Climate
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