March 2022 - 27

New York soil law buoys climate-change resilience
By Blaine Friedlander
Cornell University
As winter melts into the upcoming
agricultural planting season, New York
growers are getting a boost from the
new Soil Health and Climate Resiliency
Act - backed up by Cornell University
research, supported by the state's
farmers - and signed into law by Gov.
Kathy Hochul.
The new law (Senate: S4722A/House:
A5386A) - signed Dec. 23 - will help
farmers mitigate and adapt to the
impact of climate change, by applying
sustainable soil and crop management
strategies that improve farm resilience
and benefit the environment. It also
codifies an existing program aiming
to encourage, assist and train the
state's farmers in improving soil
through better tillage techniques,
cover-cropping methods, composting
and other novel practices.
" This law is philosophically built
on the research we've conducted at
Cornell in the last two decades, " said
Harold Van Es, professor in the School
of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS),
in the College of Agriculture and Life
Sciences (CALS), who - with Matt
Ryan, associate professor in SIPS -
now leads the New York State Soil
Health initiative.
" It's been wonderful to see broad
support for this ambitious new
legislation that hastens to expand the
adoption of good farm soil health
practices, " said David W. Wolfe,
professor emeritus in CALS, whose
research also helped inform the new
law. " This law will not only ensure a
healthy food system for New York,
but increase community resilience to
Health Roadmap, a 40-page document,
which opened with: " Historical land
use and intensive agriculture with
poor soil management have led to
an alarming loss of organic matter
in agricultural soils worldwide. The
profitability and sustainability of
many New York farms are vulnerable
to this trend (and) the importance of
organic matter to soil health cannot be
overstated. "
Many of the roadmap priorities are
The new law codifies an existing program aiming to encourage, assist and train the
state's farmers in improving soil through better tillage techniques, cover-cropping
methods, composting and other novel practices. Photo: Cornell University
extreme weather, protect our water
resources and help meet state climate
goals by storing more carbon in soil. "
State Sen. Michelle Hinchey and
Assemblymember Donna Lupardo
introduced the original bills to the New
York Legislature in February 2021,
while Ithaca Assemblymember Anna
Kelles was among the co-sponsors.
" The Soil Health and Climate
Resiliency Act is the first major
piece of legislation in New York that
paves the way for farmers who are
already leading on environmental
management, to become a cornerstone
of our fight against the climate crisis, "
Hinchey said.
Agriculture plays a vital role in
helping New York achieve its climate
goals, Lupardo said. " It starts off with
the simple premise that the health and
resiliency of New York's agricultural
soil is an important priority, " she said.
" Healthy soil produces healthier foods,
mitigates climate change through
carbon sequestration and protects our
natural resources. "
Cornell, CALS and New York
farmers have been at the forefront of
the soil health movement. In 2017,
State Sen. Tom O'Mara helped the
group obtain initial state funding for
the university's New York Soil Health
By 2018, the program leadership
organized the New York Soil Health
Summit in Albany, where more
than 140 people - from nearly 40
stakeholder groups including farmers,
politicians, nonprofits and scientists -
met in Albany to share expertise and
set new priorities.
The summit's detailed breakout
sessions led to the 2019 New York Soil
reflected in the new legislation, which
includes creating a stakeholder-based
way to integrate research, outreach
and policy to expand adoption of soil
health practices, and link this with
New York's water quality and climate
Now, the soil health initiative is
fully funded, and establishing and
maintaining soil health standards
will be reliant upon further Cornell
" When we - as faculty - were talking
about soil health 20 years ago, you had
to explain what it was, " Wolfe said.
" Now every farmer is familiar with
the phrase and their interest is piqued.
We've come a long way, but many still
need technical or economic support for
adopting these newer practices
Van Es agreed. " Allowing thought
leaders like Cornell and the College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty
to speak on these issues, translates into
important policy and legislation - and
well-being, " he said. " Sometimes it
just takes a long time, but moonshot
thinking is something that pays off in
the long run. "
Van Es, Ryan and Wolfe are faculty
fellows at the Cornell Atkinson Center
for Sustainability. FGN
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FGN | MARCH 2022 | 27

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