NSAC Applauds Introduction of the Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act of 2024

by | Jan 25, 2024 | Climate, Press

In January, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) celebrated the Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act which was introduced in the US House by a bipartisan group: Representatives Beyer (D-VA-8), Lawler (R-NY-17), and Pingree (D-ME–1).

The Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act seeks to make needed improvements to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs, as well as designate four national and regional agroforestry centers, to ensure these programs can be useful for farmers who want to incorporate perennial systems or agroforestry into their operations.

“The Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act provides common-sense, straightforward support for high-impact perennial practices through Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) conservation programs. It also ensures increased technical capacity at USDA for new and exciting perennial practices through a series of agroforestry centers. This bill is a win for farmers committed to building soil health across their operation through plant diversity and strong, living roots,” said Jesse Womack, NSAC Conservation Policy Specialist. 

Specifically, the Act seeks to bolster support for farmers engaged in conservation programs by increasing technical assistance for the installation of perennial production systems. It directs USDA to enter into cooperative agreements, tailoring programs specifically for farmers adopting perennial production systems. The Act also expands the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Conservation Innovation Grants On-Farm Trials by making projects focused on-farm nutrient cycling and perennial production explicitly eligible.

In an effort to standardize terminology and understanding across programs, the Act provides identical definitions of “resource concern” for both the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and EQIP. It introduces a clear definition of “perennial production systems” for CSP, ensuring consistency and clarity in the implementation of sustainable practices. Moreover, the Act strengthens cost share for high impact practices within CSP, adding perennial production systems to the list eligible for Supplemental Assistance Payments. It takes a progressive stance on incentivizing diverse practices by requiring that more practices, such as agroforestry and organic practices, receive increased forgone income payments as part of CSP contracts.

The Act addresses climate change by making greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction planning an eligible conservation activity within EQIP, emphasizing the importance of environmental responsibility. It strengthens support for innovative farmers, giving them equal credit for both maintaining and adopting new conservation practices when applying to CSP.

Additionally, the Act streamlines certification processes for organic professionals within the Technical Service Provider (TSP) program, highlighting the conservation value of organic systems. It expands the TSP program’s inclusivity by adding tribes explicitly to the list of entities eligible for certification.

The Act broadens the range of technical disciplines that qualify individuals for TSP certification, including soil health planning, GHG reduction planning, integrated pest management, agroforestry planning, and organic transition planning. And to ensure USDA’s technical knowledge continues to deepen, the Act designates a national Agroforestry Research, Development, and Demonstration Center, along with the establishment of three regional agroforestry research and development centers.

Going forward, NSAC will work to make sure these valuable proposals become permanent improvements to USDA programs through the farm bill.

Text of the Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act is available here, with a one-pager on the bill here.

About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: sustainableagriculture.net

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