Regenerative Soil Bill Proposed in Vermont Legislature
Measure Aims to Clean Lakes, Support Family Farms, Sequester Carbon
January 27, 2017 — THETFORD, Vermont — Soil4Climate today announced that a regenerative soil bill, proposed by Soil4Climate Advisory Board Member and regenerative farmer, Jesse McDougall, of Shaftsbury, Vermont, has been submitted to the Vermont legislature. It is Vermont Senate Bill 2.43, “An act relating to establishing a regenerative soils program,” http://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2018/S.43.
This bill will encourage farming practices that improve Vermont’s soil health, incentivize ecosystem restoration, and provide a host of environmental and economic benefits. The bill is sponsored by State Senator Brian Campion and co-sponsored by Senators Bray, Clarkson, Pearson, Pollina, and Sears. It states,
“This Bill proposes to require the Secretary of Natural Resources to establish a regenerative soils program whose purposes include increasing the carbon sequestration capability of Vermont soils, reducing the amount of sediment and waste entering the waters of the State, and promoting cost-effective and healthy soil management practices.”
The Vermont proposal is precedent-setting in calling for the creation of a Director of Regenerative Soils, who would oversee the program. Regular soil testing will be used to certify farms showing a steady improvement in soil quality (i.e., carbon content) and/or quantity (i.e., depth). This proposed bill expands upon other legislation enacted in recent years in California and Oklahoma, and is one of several measures presently under consideration nationwide.
Increasing the amount of carbon in soil boosts its fertility and its ability to hold water, resulting in less need for fertilizer and reduced water pollution. Keeping nutrients in soil can reverse the pollution increasingly plaguing Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways. Other benefits associated with increased soil carbon content include improved biodiversity, enhanced drought resilience, enhanced flood resistance, increased forage nutrition, improved crop yield, and sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The proposed bill also includes a consumer-facing label program to identify farms demonstrating 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 organic agriculture; and a mechanism to provide child care grants to struggling farm families with young children.
Commenting on the bill’s submittal, its author, Jesse McDougall, stated: “When soil loses its carbon through decades of plowing and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, it is unable to retain nutrients that instead flow into rivers and lakes, causing the algal blooms we’re now seeing. This bill incentivizes 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. McDougall, and his wife Cally, took over operation of their family’s farm after Cally’s aunt, Edie Tschorn, died at age 56 in 2012 of an aggressive form of brain cancer. “We were so scared of a possible link between the chemicals used on the farm and Edie’s cancer that we stopped spraying everything on the farm as soon as we could,” said McDougall. “Though, once we stopped spraying, our lush productive fields were no longer lush nor productive. They were dry, gravelly, and full of washouts. Years of chemical treatment and tillage damaged our soil and the fertility of our farm—essentially making us dependent on more chemicals and more tillage to produce crops. We turned instead to regenerative farming, and have found it to be a more profitable alternative to conventional agriculture—ecologically and economically.”
Seth Itzkan, cofounder of Soil4Climate, stated, “Science has shown that halting emissions from fossil fuels, although absolutely necessary, is no longer adequate to prevent catastrophic consequences of global warming. We need a companion effort to naturally pull carbon pollution out of the atmosphere and store it safely in soils where it has many added benefits. The new bill recognizes farmers that are producing healthy food while helping to restore climate balance and making Vermont’s watersheds more biodiverse and resilient.”
A summary of international, federal, state, and local legislation promoting soil restoration may be found at 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, policymakers, journalists, and concerned global citizens at facebook.com/groups/Soil4Climate
Studio Hill Farm