SAN LUIS VALLEY — This week, 167 new bills went into effect in Colorado. Nestled in among legislation related to affordable housing, gender identity and reporting stolen firearms is a bill named the “Agricultural Soil Health Program”. And while the bill might not grab big headlines in Denver, it could give a significant and much-needed boost to farmers and ranchers in the SLV who recognize the value of healthy soil.
“I think we all recognize and understand the importance of healthy soil,” says Senator Cleave Simpson, the SLV farmer and rancher who sponsored the bill. “But we don’t always have the resources to either measure and track soil health or have access to all the newest information and practices. I expect the Soil Health Program to highlight the importance and the value as well as connect producers with the most appropriate resources.”
As Simpson explains it, the concept of a specific Soil Health Program has been around for some time, and many of the state’s soil conservation districts already provide a variety of services and support for healthy soil programs. But not all soil conservation districts do that, and they’re not done consistently across the state.
However, there is federal funding available to address that inconsistency.
According to Simpson, Congress has funding in place to support healthy soil practices, but there was a catch. States are required to stand up specific Soil Health Programs to take advantage of the funds and give the Department of Agriculture authority to receive dollars from private and governmental sources.
Simpson’s bill being passed into law paves the way to meet that requirement.
The $4,500 approved with the bill will be used to stand up the advisory committee to the Commissioner of Agriculture to set up the details of the program as well as the mechanism to potentially award grant dollars to ag producers who apply. With the bill now in effect, Simpson says the Department of Agriculture will be seeking grant dollars from both federal and private sources, while the advisory committee is being organized.
“It was the right time to set this up,” Simpson says, “and to be in a position to take advantage of some of those federal dollars. This bill is intended to highlight the values associated with healthy soil and make funding available for producers to institute practices that improve soil conditions along with positive impacts to our bottom lines. As a farmer and rancher, I thought it was a great opportunity to provide much needed assistance to producers across the state. If the program doesn’t actually help producers and their profitability, I will be very disappointed.”
Senator Simpson suggests that any producers interested in taking part in this program stay in contact with their local soil conservation district or visit the Colorado Department of Agriculture website at https://ag.colorado.gov for details as the program gets organized and funded.