When it comes to farming, it all starts with the soil.

That was the message last week at a hearing that would create the Maine Healthy Soils Program within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry: The future of Maine farming is full of potential. Agriculture has so much to give to this state, and this region. But farmers need support — starting at very beginning.

Healthy soil is the foundation of our food system. Healthier soil brings higher yields and lower costs. It is more resilient to extreme weather changes being made more frequent by the climate crisis. And it helps fight that crisis by sequestering greenhouse gases.

There are resources available for farmers. But they usually work day and night just to keep the lights on. If they’re not in the fields, they are out finding markets for their products. Most don’t have much time for anything other than day-to-day business; keeping up on the latest techniques and technology is difficult, especially for the state’s many small producers.

The Maine Healthy Soils Program would bring all those resources into one place, so that farmers won’t waste time out of their busy schedules looking for them. There would be technical support, opportunities for farmers to share best practices, and access to funding to implement those practices.

No taxpayer money is needed to start the program. It would initially run on grants; establishing a soils program, as has been done in 11 other states, would allow Maine to receive federal funding for healthy soils now being considered as part of climate legislation.

A healthy soil program would play a valuable role in helping reach Maine’s climate goals — the right techniques keep carbon in the ground, and out of the atmosphere. It would help farms get the most out of their land as well.

It would also recognize the importance of soil health to every Mainer, whether they are in agriculture or not.

“This legislation has the potential to reframe the value that our state places on its agricultural soils as a driver of our agricultural economy, an opportunity to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and, ultimately, as a key natural resource,” reads a letter signed by more than 100 Maine farmers in support of a healthy soils program.

Maine has so much to gain from a healthy farming industry. A stronger economy built on small, local businesses. Abundant, nutritious and reliable food for the entire region. A partner in the effort to stop and mitigate the climate crisis.

But a healthy farming industry depends on healthy soil, and healthy soil doesn’t just happen. It takes commitment — from farmers, from the customers who seek out their products, and from the state.

 

 


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