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Costs of soil friendly farming would be defrayed under approved bill

Minnesota farmers could get funds to defray the costs of planting cover crops, subdivide grazing pastures and implement other practices that improve soil health.

HF701, sponsored by Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield), would create the Soil-Healthy Farming Program, which would provide grants and direct payments to farmers who implement such practices.

The bill would also set long-term soil-health goals for Minnesota farmers. Specifically, it would call for at least half of farmers to use soil-healthy practices by 2030 and all of them to use the practices by 2035.

It would set the goal of having the practices used on all the state's tillable and grazeable acreage by 2040.

Lippert said he plans to seek $5.5 million from the General Fund for the program in the 2022-23 biennium.

The bill was approved 11-1 by the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday and referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. Its companion, SF1113, is sponsored by Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) and awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee.

Healthy soil is key to maintaining productive, resilient cropland, reducing erosion and runoff and even preventing carbon from being released into the atmosphere.

Lippert said more farmers would like to experiment with soil friendly practices but can be constrained by costs, noting such practices can often take three to five years to become profitable.

"When money's tight, it's hard to take a short-term risk for a long-term gain," he said.

The bill would allow farmers to receive up to $15,000 in grants, $12,500 in direct payments for cropping practices and $17,500 in direct payments for managed rotational grazing. All totals are lifetime limits. Funding, to be provided through soil and water conservation districts, would be prioritized to socially disadvantaged and small- and mid-sized farmers.

Environmental groups and farmers said they support investing funds to improve soil health, noting the long-term benefits for farmers and ability of soil to sequester carbon and prevent erosion.

Sheila Vanney, assistant director of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, said she'd want to ensure her member associations get the funding necessary to implement the bill.

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