Newly signed bill makes firm commitment to soil health in Texas

Published May 25, 2021

   

Yesterday, Gov. Gregg Abbott signed a bill that helps build the state’s resilience, boosting Texas’ ability to mitigate both flooding and drought, while increasing the health of plants and animals grown for food. 

The bill to create an “On-the-Ground Conservation” program passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House with a vote of 143-1 before being sent to the Governor.

SB 1118 directs the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board to provide education, technical assistance, and grant resources to support specific practices on private lands. It explicitly addresses soil health, improving resilience to weather extremes and natural disasters, sequestering carbon in the soil, and several other areas that were only indirectly addressed under the Board’s current programs.

“Because 95 percent of all land in Texas is privately owned, environmental preservation depends enormously on stewardship by private landowners,” explained Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas), the Senate bill sponsor. “The new On-the-Ground Conservation program will provide access to federal funds that incentivize and help Texas landowners to implement conservation measures like soil health improvements, erosion control, invasive species control, habitat protection, and land restoration.”

New programs will provide training and funds to help landowners adopt techniques such as  cover crops, no- or low-tilling of soil, and what’s known as “rotational grazing,” which moves livestock on specific schedules through pastures, ensuring that soil is actually made healthier, rather than being overgrazed and compacted.

“This program will be very helpful to farmers who want to learn and implement techniques that increase organic matter in the soil,” said Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA). “FARFA brought together a working group of organizations and landowners during the legislative interim to identify why more people weren’t already implementing healthy soils methods. Some people didn’t realize the benefits, others needed help with the technical how-to’s, and others couldn’t afford the up-front costs. SB 1118 grew out of those discussions, and we are excited about its passage.”  

“We want to equip Texas’ farmers and ranchers with the best tools necessary to revive their soil,” said Rep. Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls), the House sponsor, sharing his personal experience. “After 14½ years of training and deployment with the U.S. Army fighting the war on terror, I returned home to find my land over-tilled and in pretty bad shape. Practices like no-till and rotational grazing revived my land and my creek. My animals are doing better, and my land is producing more bountiful crop.”

The new initiative will provide numerous benefits, particularly in the areas of urban flooding and agricultural drought.

“This is incredibly important here in Texas,” explained McGeary. “Healthy soils act as a sponge, capturing water during rainfalls and storing it for slow release as needed. That translates to lower irrigation demand, improved drought resilience, improved aquifer recharge, and less downstream flooding.”

Based in Cameron, Texas, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance has a 16-year history of successfully advocating at the national, state, and local level to shape legislation and regulations supporting the success of independent farms and local food producers. As a non-profit organization, FARFA focuses on changing burdensome laws that hinder the ability of small-scale, sustainable producers to provide products to consumers at fair market prices.