New York’s Soil Health Initiative

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The Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act has been established in the state of New York.

The bill was originally Introduced as S4722A in February 2021 by Democratic Senator Michelle Hinchey, who also serves as Chair of the state’s Senate Agriculture Committee. Senator Hinchey stated that this bill is the “first major piece of legislation in New York that paves the way for farmers, who are already leading on environmental management, to become a cornerstone of our fight against the climate crisis.”

Soil health, as defined by the bill, refers to soils having “continuing capacity to function as a vital, living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” Many things rely on healthy soil, including food and fuel production, sustaining a habit for organisms that live in the soil, storage, and protection of the water that infiltrates the soil. Healthy soil also provides protection from pests, flooding, diseases, harmful chemicals and extreme precipitation/temperature events. Ultimately, healthy soil mitigates the impact of agriculture on soil, on global climate change, improve results in long-term greenhouse gas benefits, and improve sequestering carbon.

According to Environmental Advocates New York, agriculture accounts for 5.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted in New York. Farmers are also impacted by climate change, resulting in productivity loss and negative effects on the economy.

Through this act, farmers will be encouraged farmers to use methods that will improve their soil health and address methods concerning stormwater management, maximizing water infiltration, and minimizing soil erosion. Farmers will be supported in research efforts so they can maintain and maximize the potential of their soil, as well as reduce agriculture’s negative impact on the state of New York.

Under the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the act will focus on the following three initiatives. The Soil Health Initiative where the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets and Soil and Water Conservation Committee will work with farmers to adopt soil health practices.The Climate Resilient Farming Initiative where soil health standards will be created for farmers to utilize through the collaboration of the Department of Agriculture and Markers, Soil and Water Conservation, and stakeholders. And, the Soil Health Research Initiative which allows the Department of Agriculture and Markets to consult with experts and create solutions that will answer questions concering the policies.

Efforts will be coordinated with Agricultural Environmental Management, a program that helps farmers identify environmental risks on their farm as well as solutions to resolve them and prevent future issues.

In December, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a legislative package that included S4722A as one of the eight bills dedicated to environmental protection measures. Governor Hochul expressed her support for the bills and stated “climate change and pollution are two of the most serious issues affecting New Yorkers’ health and quality of life.”

For more information about this bill, visit nysenate.gov/legislation and nationalaglawcenter.org

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