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Kentucky lawmaker proposes healthy soils program

Hellebores blooming in February in Louisville.
Amina Elahi
Hellebores blooming in February in Louisville.

A bill promoting the use of healthy soil practices has been introduced in the Kentucky Legislature.

House Bill 94 would establish a program with funding to help farmers around the state test their soil and implement sustainable practices like rotating livestock and planting cover crops that could improve the long-term health of the land.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Nima Kulkarni of Louisville, says the goal is to help small farms and underrepresented farmers in cities and rural areas.

“If farmers utilize the program you will see a general increase in the health of our soils, less erosion, less nutrient depletion,” Kulkarni said.

Maintaining soil health is about its continued capacity to sustain life. Over-reliance on fertilizer, tilling and monoculture can deplete soil of nutrients, helpful insects and microorganisms that sustain long-term soil health.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes five principles to soil health: maximizing the presence of living roots, minimizing disturbance, maximizing soil cover and maximizing biodiversity.

This is at least the fourth time a state lawmaker has introduced this bill, but it’s yet to ever get a committee hearing.

Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Sarah Beth Sammons said the bill would elevate the importance of Kentucky soil health and create a more sustainable state agriculture industry.

Sammons said she’s spoken with several landowners facing soil erosion and viability issues because of poor land management. Funding in the bill could also help the district’s urban health soil initiative, which funds native plant reimbursement, cover crops, and community education and workshops.

“Especially in a state that has been within the top 20 states for loss of agricultural land to development, improving, restoring and maintaining Kentucky's agricultural soil, increases our overall food security, quality of life, and equity,” Sammons said.

Similar legislation has already passed in California, Utah, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland and Hawaii, Sammons said.

Locally, the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District has a current budget funding shortfall of $90,000. That funding is necessary for hiring a new executive director and designing the district’s yearly plan of action.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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