AFT Applauds Massachusetts Governor Healey’s Signage of Budgets Which Include Critical Support for Farmers Impacted by the Climate Crisis
(Northampton, MA) American Farmland Trust, NOFA/Mass, Regenerative Design Group, and a broader coalition of soil advocates commend the Massachusetts State Legislature and Governor Maura Healey for the passage of the FY2024 State Budget and the passage of the $200 million Supplemental Budget in July. The FY2024 budget, signed by Governor Healey on August 9, 2023, includes $1.02 million to support healthy soil practices on farmland and other critical natural lands. The supplemental budget signed by the Governor on August 2, 2023, included $20 million in funding to support farmers whose operations were impacted by climate-related disasters. This critical funding comes at a time when the climate crisis is severely impacting farms across the Commonwealth. With these appropriations, state leaders have recognized that farmers, land managers, and the lands they steward play a crucial role in mitigating threats from climate change.
An abnormally warm winter followed by a hard May frost severely impacted orchard and berry crops and a mid-July flood that destroyed farm fields throughout Massachusetts, farmers have suffered significant crop losses in 2023. This comes after farmers suffered losses from last year’s drought — the third to impact Massachusetts’ farmland since 2016.
By providing funding to promote soil health practices that improve the soil’s ability to receive, drain, filter, and store water without eroding and washing out, Massachusetts is supporting an approach to land management that is better for farm viability, food security, farmer safety, water quality, and flood resilience. By increasing cover crop adoption, reducing tillage, building soil organic matter, reducing nutrient applications, and improving irrigation and drainage systems, farmers can better adapt to a more extreme and unpredictable climate while also protecting watershed health.
“Because farmland in Massachusetts is some of the most expensive in the country – and faces significant development pressure – farmers need to optimize the use of their available land,” said James Habana Hafner, New England Director, American Farmland Trust. “Farmers in other regions can adapt to the roulette of weather variability by planting the same crop in both a flood-prone field and a high, well-drained field. In Massachusetts, very few farmers have access to enough land to hedge their bets in that way. So, they must invest in other measures that directly help mitigate both flooding and drought conditions and implement other adaptive measures.”
In addition to supporting farmers who adopt healthy soils practices and improve water management systems on agricultural land, the $1.02 million allocated to the Healthy Soils Program (administered by EEA) will also support training and stakeholder engagement for municipal, regional, and conservation planners involved in the Commonwealth’s other land uses, including wetlands, forest, and developed land (recreational, ornamental and impervious surfaced land covers). Grants will also be made available to support healthy soils projects on Massachusetts’ other essential land uses.
“Massachusetts farmers face many challenges in their efforts to feed us all, and they meet those challenges with creative and thoughtful solutions,” said Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Commissioner Ashley Randle. “With this $20 million in climate disaster relief funding and $1.02 million toward healthy soil practices, we’re signaling our support to the farming community that we will provide the needed assistance to help keep our farms growing and thriving in the Commonwealth.”
“The Healthy Soils Action Plan Work Group identified unique priority actions to protect and improve soil health of the forests, wetlands, farms, and more developed lands of Commonwealth,” said Keith Zaltzberg-Drezdahl, lead author of the Massachusetts Healthy Soils Action Plan and Managing Director for Regenerative Design Group. “The funding and legislation for the Healthy Soils Program will allow educators, innovative land managers, and others to spread the word about how to protect the carbon stored in our soils and take the next necessary steps in equipping all people who touch this essential natural resource to maximize the resilience and productivity of Massachusetts’ working, wild, and developed landscapes.”
“The Healthy Soils Program was created with the passage of the Healthy Soils Bill in 2021, and subsequent efforts since the bill’s passage have focused on identifying and funding priority actions for the Program to implement (based on the Healthy Soils Action Plan and Resilient Lands Initiative),” said Dago Driggs, Senior Policy Advisor with NOFA/Mass. “With this funding, the Commonwealth will jump-start the development of a state Healthy Soils Program to increase coordination between state entities and establish strategic initiatives to scale out practices which will make our landscapes and farms more resilient to climate impacts.”
While the Healthy Soils Action Plan identifies agricultural land as containing a relatively small proportion of Massachusetts carbon stocks compared to wetlands and forested lands, improving healthy soils on farmland is a critical leading step for several reasons: farmland is more heavily managed, the specific management practices have a significant impact on the long-term carbon dynamics of that soil, and building carbon in farmland soils has significant co-benefits of improving food security and the climate resilience of that land. AFT and NOFA/Mass are dedicated to supporting farmers in adopting climate-resilient practices. In Massachusetts,
AFT, in partnership with NOFA/Mass and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) administers the Massachusetts Coordinated Soil Health Program – serving hundreds of farmers each year through a combination of technical, financial, and educational resources on soil health practices. The program assists organic and conventional vegetable and livestock farmers across the state, encouraging the implementation of cover crops, no-till, nutrient management, and other soil health management practices.
According to AFT’s Farms Under Threat: A New England Perspective, between 2001 and 2016, approximately 105,500 acres were either lost or threatened by development. Of the acres that were impacted, 35 percent (37,300) of farmland acres were lost to other uses, such as parking lots and buildings (“urban & highly developed,” UHD). In comparison, 65 percent (68,200) of farmland acres were severely impacted by encroaching development and may already be lost or are likely to be irreversibly lost in the near future (to “low-density residential development,” or LDR). As these threats increase, climate-resilient practices will help farmers protect their land and future operational resilience and economic viability. The Healthy Soils Program and the recent allocation of $1.02 million to support these programs comes at a time when farmers need financial assistance to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
“Massachusetts farmers recognize the importance of healthy soil practices to combat climate change and to make their farms more profitable,” said Representative Paul Schmid (D-8th Bistrol District) Chair, Joint Committee on Agriculture and House Co-Chair MA Food Systems Caucus. “The farming community thanks the Speaker and Chair Michlewitz for their support,”
“We must use every tool available to us in the fight against climate change. Healthy soil not only sequesters more carbon dioxide, but it also increases crop yield,” said Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), Senate Co-Chair of the MA Food Systems Caucus. “Thanks to the strong partnership with American Farmland Trust, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, and colleagues like former Senator Anne Gobi and Representative Paul Schmid, Massachusetts became one of the first states in the nation to pass legislation to establish a state program focused on soil health. Now, thanks to that same partnership, we have secured over $1 million in funding for this work. I am grateful to Senate President Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for recognizing the value of healthy soil and their steadfast support of this work over the past five years.”
“Massachusetts has led the way in creating a Healthy Soils Action Plan, and we here in Western Mass have seen over the past few weeks how crucial it is to take robust, expeditious action to protect our farms and to mitigate and plan for the effects of climate change,” said Representative Patricia Duffy (D-Holyoke and Chicopee) MA Food Systems Caucus member. “I am grateful to all the advocates and all of my colleagues who made this case to the Conference Committee, and I’m grateful to the Conference Committee for hearing us.”
Click here to learn more about the MA Healthy Soils Program and this funding request.
American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.