• Soil Health,  State Policy

    State Soil Health Policy: An Update

    Pictured (left to right): Amalie Lipstreu, Dave Brandt, Lauren Hirtle

    It’s been a while since we’ve shared in-depth updates on our soil health policy efforts in Ohio. But rest assured, behind the scenes and at the Statehouse, OEFFA’s policy team, the Ohio Soil Health Initiative (OSHI), member leaders, and partners have been working hard to make progress to prioritize soil health in Ohio. 

    Introducing the Soil Health Pilot Program 

    This winter, with the previously proposed Soil Health Task Force Bill (HB 669) on pause and the legislative session heading towards a state budget review process, OSHI saw an opportunity. We set forth a budget proposal for the Soil Health Pilot Program. The program would fund innovative projects around the state focused on improving soil health, establishing farmer networks to share their knowledge on soil health practice implementation, and helping to increase farm resilience and profitability while alleviating Ohio’s water quality concerns and more. 

    Following the steps of the biennial budget process, we first met with Ohio House Representatives who would potentially help us move this proposal forward and include it in their version of the budget. To help in these efforts, we contracted with a well-connected consulting firm with a great track record and reputation in Ohio policy matters. We were able to meet with dozens of representatives who were members of either the House Finance or Agriculture committees. These meetings were opportunities to initiate relationships, secure legislative champions, and introduce OEFFA, OSHI, the farmers we work with, and the pilot project proposal.   

    The Importance of Soil Health, as Told by OEFFA Farmers and Members 

    Pictured (left to right): Lauren Hirtle, Jim Linne, Amalie Lipstreu

    In March, OEFFA Soil Health Ambassador, Jim Linne of White Clover Farm in Hillsboro Ohio, and OEFFA’s Policy Program Director, Amalie Lipstreu, gave testimony in favor of amending the House version of the budget to include the pilot program.  

    This project garnered impressive support from our community. OEFFA members, organization partners, and OSHI members offered many letters of support for the project which were shared with the elected officials we met with. Additionally, many OEFFA supporters submitted requests to their representatives to support the pilot program.  

    While the House debated and eventually passed its version of the budget, we wasted no time in meeting with key senators at the Statehouse. Once again, we met with members of the Senate Finance and Agriculture committees over a series of weeks in late March and early May.  

    Senate Testimony with the Late, Great Dave Brandt

    In mid-May, along with Amalie, the late and great Dave Brandt gave testimony to the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He also established a connection with his own senator, Tim Schaffer, who chairs the committee. Dave, as he always did, showed up for what he believed in: educating others about the importance of soil health and advocating for wider adoption of good soil health practices throughout the world. Personally, I feel so lucky to have worked with a truly impressive farmer and advocate such as Dave. I hope to embody his spirit of community and education as I continue my soil health work with OEFFA.  

    As the Senate prepared to debate their version of the budget, we delivered organic seedlings to each potential senate champion’s office as a final nudge of encouragement for them to consider supporting soil health innovation in the budget with the pilot project.  

    Unfortunately, we learned in late June that our proposal wasn’t included in the Senate or the final budget. 

    Moving Forward with Our Commitment to Soil Health 

    As ever with our policy work, we reflect on our efforts, evaluate successes and setbacks, and look forward to our goals. Building on the momentum of our budget process work, we now have the opportunity to deepen the relationships we forged in the Statehouse and workshop new legislative proposals. 

    We’re in the process of reviewing legislative options from our National Healthy Soil Policy Network (NHSPN) partners to narrow down our best choices moving forward with soil health legislation in Ohio. Our next steps are to work with you (soil health advocates and OEFFA members!) to identify the best legislative solution to advance soil health work in the legislature for the remainder of this session and mobilize Ohio soil health supporters to reach our goals. 

    After honing in on our next legislative direction, we hope to identify two Republican and two Democratic champions who will advance the legislation in the Ohio House and Senate. 

    Reach out to me at lauren@oeffa.org about ways you can be involved with our state soil health work. 

    Ready to take action for soil health NOW? Click here and ask your members of Congress to support soil health in the 2023 Farm Bill! 

  • Conservation,  State Policy

    Ohio Soil Health Bill Moving Forward

    Paul Dorrance and Jim Linne discuss pasture-based livestock farming and soil health on Jim’s farm, White Clover Farm, in Hillsboro, Ohio

    This growing season (like many before) has seen months of challenging conditions including excessive rain followed by days on end of high heat and drought. In facing these challenges, Ohio farmers know that improving soil health is a critical component to mitigating the impacts of these extreme weather events, as well as offering a myriad of other environmental benefits.

    But our farmers can’t do this alone. It’s essential that there is legislative investment in supporting and incentivizing the use of good soil management practices to create lasting environmental and economic resiliency. This commitment to soil health needs to be more than just seed deep. When we prioritize soil health, we’re supporting improved surface and ground water quality, increased crop productivity and profitability, better water holding capacity and reduced erosion, and so much more. Going deeper, this commitment means investing in the future of our farms, in a more sustainable food system, and resilient communities.

    Coordinated planning and leadership that’s informed by our farmers is needed to make good soil health practices a real priority in the state of Ohio. That’s why just this May, with support from OEFFA and the Ohio Soil Health Initiative (OSHI), Representative Juanita Brent (D-12), introduced Ohio House Bill 669 which aims to create a Healthy Soils Task Force.

    Getting to Know HB 669

    HB 669 calls for creating a Healthy Soils Task Force consisting of a diverse group of farmers, agriculture and soil health experts from Ohio academic institutions, conservation and environmental organization representatives, and appointees from the Ohio House and Senate. With administrative and fiscal support from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) the group will:

    1. Develop a healthy soils initiative for the state of Ohio
    2. Create a comprehensive action plan to implement an Ohio soil initiative with set goals, timelines and resource requirements and availabilities
    3. Examine, identify, and review:
      • Financial incentives to improve soil health;
      • The benefits of livestock to soil health;
      • Goals and timelines for improving soil health in the state via partnerships between producers and regional agencies and other invested organizations;
      • Identification of federal resources that can be leveraged in the state of Ohio to further soil health practice.
    4. Consult additional experts and agencies
    5. By the end of 2022 (at which time the Task Force will be terminated), submit the action plan, report findings and suggestions to the Governor and the State House and Senate agricultural committees

    Next Steps to Prioritizing Healthy Soils in Ohio

    This bill is the first step towards prioritizing soil health in Ohio and there is still time to contact your legislator and ask them to support the Healthy Soils Task Force!

    Sign OEFFA’s Soil Health Petition

    Become an OEFFA Member

    If you would like to be more involved, contact lauren@oeffa.org or (614) 725-0903 to learn about how you can help support healthy soils in Ohio.