shovelSoil health is essential to our agriculture systems. Fertile, healthy soil is made up of nutrients, micro-organisms, minerals and other organic material. Without these things in our soil, farmers cannot produce the food we need. A growing body of research shows that healthy soils also naturally sequester carbon, preventing it from seeping into the air and contributing to the greenhouse effect that is causing climate change.

Unfortunately, healthy soils on our farms are deteriorating. Large-scale industrial farms across the country emit huge amounts of greenhouses gases and common conventional farming practices, such as heavy tillage and rampant pesticide use, erode soils and kill the micro-organisms necessary for soil to remain fertile. As a result, our soils are losing their natural carbon-capturing abilities and cannot contain the massive carbon footprint of our modern agriculture systems.

Maryland has been a leader in cover crop adoption, and is now among several states in the country that are taking steps to encourage farmers to adopt a mix of soil-friendly practices, such as using cover crops and compost, increasing diversity of plants and reducing pesticide use, in order to improve yields, increase resistance to disease and drought and help combat climate change. In the 2017 legislative session, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation to promote healthy soils and incentivize farming practices that contribute to healthy soils and sequester carbon. The legislation defined “healthy soils” as the continuing capacity of soil to:

  • function as a biological system;
  • increase soil organic matter;
  • improve soil structure and water and nutrient holding capacity; and
  • sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

MCAC continues to be involved in policy and research discussions as this law takes effect. While the state is taking a step in the right direction to learn more about healthy soils and explore further policy solutions, much more work remains. For more, read our blog post about healthy soils here.