Legislation Carries Bipartisan Support for Soil Health in Illinois
The Illinois 103rd General Assembly overwhelmingly passed SB 1701, introduced by State Senator Ram Villivalam, in the last days of the Spring 2023 legislative session. This support signals a commitment to improving coordination between the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Soil and Water Conservation Districts to advance Illinois soil health efforts across the state.
The legislation calls for IDOA to administer and support the Healthy Soils Initiative, a ground-breaking locally led effort to pinpoint and guide voluntary strategies to improve the ability of Illinois farms to grow vigorous crops and maintain resilience to extreme weather events. As part of the process, Soil and Water Conservation Districts will assess current cropping systems, best practices, and the funding, staffing, and technical assistance necessary to support farmers across the state as they adopt healthy soil practices.
“We are encouraged to see such strong bipartisan support for soil health in Illinois,” reflected Kris Reynolds, Midwest Regional Director for American Farmland Trust. “The Partners for Conservation program and SWCDs are the best delivery system for technical assistance to farms adopting soil health practices like cover cropping, no-till, and reduced tillage. With legislative support across the aisle, The Healthy Soils Initiative will give them the support and guidance from IDOA that’s necessary to expand these practices statewide.” As an Illinois Healthy Soil and Waters Coalition member, American Farmland Trust worked alongside the State’s leading agricultural, conservation, and environmental organizations to support the legislation.
SB 1701 and the Healthy Soils Initiative bring together the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Illinois Extension Program to create an expansive Illinois soil health framework implemented by Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Department of Agriculture.
This initiative is a testament to the hard-won amendments to the Soil and Water Conservation District Act back in 2019. Those amendments allowed districts to make more focused efforts to support soil-specific practices.
Research has consistently shown that nourishing the soil by increasing organic matter is the first step to combatting climate change and optimizing nutrient use. A comprehensive approach to soil health, which includes cover crops, tillage management, crop diversification, and drainage water management, promises multiple benefits. These range from reducing soil and nutrient losses to retaining carbon in the soil and ensuring crop and soil productivity.
“At AFT we know that soil health is a win-win for agriculture and the environment,” said Reynolds. “This is a good first step and we’re glad to see stakeholders come together, work together, and agree that there is more work to be done. We look forward to continued collaboration to support SWCDs and farmers while addressing the water quality and nutrient loss problems that affect us all.