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Bipartisan Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act introduced

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On Jan. 25, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Don Beyer (D-VA) and Mike Lawler (R-NY) introduced the Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act, a bipartisan bill to “improve soil health on farms and support sustainable alternatives to annual agriculture.” 

Additionally, the legislation seeks to make improvements to conservation programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), while designating national and regional agroforestry centers to help growers who want to incorporate perennial systems or agroforestry on their operations. 

“Healthy soil is one of the most vital resources a farmer can have. Managing for healthy soil can improve farm productivity and incomes, insulate a farm against extreme weather and improve a farm’s impact on watersheds and wildlife,” reads a document published by the three representatives. 

“There are many strategies for improving soil health on farms, but one of the most effective strategies available is installing perennial systems,” they continue. “Perennial agricultural practices help keep soil covered year-round, protecting it from erosive forces like wind and rain. Perennial agriculture keeps the soil anchored in place with living roots, which help stimulate microbial life in the soil column and cycle nutrients.”

The bill further notes USDA has been a helpful partner for growers interested in installing perennial conservation practices, especially through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). However, while these have proved to be effective tools, Pingree, Beyer and Lawler believe improvements can be made. 

“Successfully designing, installing and maintaining perennial systems or agroforestry on farms is a long and complex process which comes with real costs, as well as periods of reduced income,” they state. “USDA’s conservation programs need to accommodate this reality and better promote these soil health strategies.” 

Proposed legislation

According to the representatives, the act would increase technical assistance for growers who use conservation programs to install perennial production systems, direct USDA to enter cooperative agreements to provide programs tailored to growers who use perennial production systems and make on-farm nutrient cycling and perennial production eligible for EQIP.

In an effort to standardize terminology, the act would also provide identical definitions of  “resource concern” for both CSP and EQIP, while also clearly defining “perennial production systems” and adding perennial production systems to the list of those eligible for Supplemental Assistance Payments. 

Additionally, the proposed legislation would require more practices, including agroforestry and organic practices, receive income payments as part of a CSP contract; make greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction planning an eligible conservation activity under EQIP; give farmers equal credit for maintaining and adopting new conservation practices when applying to CSP; clarify the ranking of CSP renewal applications based on existing and planned conservation activities and create payments for soil health tests in CSP.

The act would also add Tribes to the list of entities eligible to become a certified Technical Service Provider (TSP); add soil health planning, GHG reduction planning, integrated pest management, agroforestry planning and organic transition planning to the list of technical disciplines that qualify someone to become a certified TSP; streamline certification for organic professionals in the TSP program; designate a national Agroforestry Research, Development and Demonstration Center and establish three regional agroforestry research and development centers.

Stakeholder feedback

In a Jan. 26 press release published by Pingree’s office, Beyer comments, “American agriculture faces many challenges today, including harmful soil erosion exacerbated by the climate crisis’ extreme weather patterns. Our bill is a significant step to support the health and sustainability of American farms by ensuring USDA has the resources necessary to be a strong partner for farmers who prioritize perennial agriculture and agroforestry.”

“These practices promote soil health, which not only makes the soil more resilient to extreme weather events and erosion but also improves long-term agricultural productivity and farming’s impacts on watersheds and wildlife,” Beyer adds. 

Lawler states, “By supporting farmers in the utilization of perennial systems and agroforestry, the Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act encourages healthy soil management – improving overall farm productivity and stimulating microbial life. This is a win for farmers, a win for the environment and a win for American families. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this commonsense bipartisan bill.”

The legislation has also been praised by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and Carbon180. 

“The Innovative Practices for Soil Health Act provides commonsense, straightforward support for high-impact perennial practices through USDA conservation programs,” says NSAC Conservation Specialist Jesse Womack. “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.”

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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