INTRODUCED BY _________________________________________________
By Request of the ****
A BILL FOR AN ACT ENTITLED: "AN ACT ESTABLISHING A SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY COUNCIL TO STUDY THE VIABILITY, STRUCTURE, AND PURPOSE OF A SOIL HEALTH PROGRAM IN MONTANA; REQUIRING A REPORT TO THE 68TH LEGISLATURE; AND PROVIDING AN IMMEDIATE EFFECTIVE DATE."
WHEREAS, agriculture is Montana's top industry, generating $3.5 billion in revenue; and
WHEREAS, Montana is home to more than 27,000 agricultural producers who are reporting less farm-related income and more bankruptcies; and
WHEREAS, as of 2007, an average of 6.4 tons of topsoil per acre were lost every year due to erosion in Montana, compromising the productivity of agriculture in the state; and
WHEREAS, farmers and ranchers are already experiencing hotter and drier summers, drought, water shortages, and more intense weeds and pests; and
WHEREAS, healthy soil increases nutrient availability and helps capture, retain, and store more water, increasing the economic viability of farms and ranches, the availability of water for municipalities and recreational uses, and in-stream flows for power generation, fish, and wildlife; and
WHEREAS, as soil organic carbon increases, so does its water holding capacity, increasing agriculture's resilience to drought and water shortages; and
WHEREAS, there is a growing understanding of the link between human health and soil health; and
WHEREAS, farming and ranching are vital to economic development for Montana's tribes and rural communities; and
WHEREAS, national agricultural and conservation groups have issued a joint recommendation for the United States Department of Agriculture to establish a grant program to help states improve soil health on agricultural lands; and
WHEREAS, appropriate planning, coordination, and collaboration is needed to accelerate the adoption of soil building practices throughout the state.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MONTANA:
NEW SECTION. Section 1. Interim study of soil health -- subcommittee -- membership -- funding. (1) The environmental quality council provided for in Title 5, chapter 16, shall establish a subcommittee to conduct a study of policies and practices to improve soil health and report to the full council.
(2) Subcommittee members must be appointed by the chair of the environmental quality council with concurrence of the vice chair. The subcommittee must include:
(a) two members of the environmental quality council, one representing each party;
(b) one representative of the department of natural resources and conservation;
(c) one representative of the department of agriculture;
(d) one tribal representative;
(e) one representative of the Montana state university-Bozeman extension service;
(f) one representative of the Montana university system;
(g) one representative of a tribal college;
(h) one representative of the agricultural experiment station;
(i) one representative of conservation districts;
(j) one representative of an organization that advocates on behalf of small-sized to mid-sized farmers and ranchers;
(k) one representative of the United States department of agriculture's natural resources conservation service who works with Montana farmers and ranchers on soil health programs; and
(l) four representatives composed of two farmers and two ranchers who represent the diversity of Montana's farming and ranching systems, including at least:
(i) one whose farm or ranch is certified organic;
(ii) one who has demonstrated use of soil health practices; and
(iii) one who serves on a conservation district board of supervisors.
(3) Members are entitled to the same compensation and reimbursement as members of the environmental quality council unless compensation to participate in the subcommittee is paid by another local, state, federal, or tribal entity.
(4) The environmental quality council will pay compensation and expenses pursuant to this section. The environmental quality council may accept grants, gifts, transfers, bequests, donations, and appropriations from any source for the purposes of [sections 1 through 3].
(a) the general status of soil health conditions in the state and which ranching and cropping systems are currently benefiting from soil health investments;
(b) the existing statutory direction for soil health conservation as well as associated programs and their effectiveness;
(c) the barriers for utilizing and scaling up soil building practices on more acres;
(d) which suite of soil building practices have the highest adoption potential among crop and livestock producers;
(e) the policy and market opportunities for increasing the adoption of agricultural practices that build soil health;
(f) which state agency has the responsibility for managing, collecting data on, and monitoring soil health, and, if no state agency has this responsibility, examine what state agency or agencies should oversee management, data collection, and monitoring of soil health;
(g) the role of federal programs and funding in increasing adoption of soil building practices; and
(h) the benefits of establishing incentives for landowners to monitor soil health and contribute to a state monitoring program.
(2) The subcommittee shall recommend:
(a) how a state soil health program can be designed to benefit the state and its farmers and ranchers;
(b) the objectives of a statewide soil health program;
(c) how a soil health program would be adopted, administered, monitored, evaluated, and funded;
(d) how agencies can collaborate with one another and with external stakeholders, including federal programs, to expand the program's outreach and data gathering;
(e) how best to communicate with and facilitate outreach to producers; and
(f) how to update the legislature on a soil health program's impact.
NEW SECTION. Section 3. Final report. The environmental quality council shall complete the study by September 15, 2021, and file a report in accordance with 5-11-210 to the 68th legislature on its findings and recommendations, including any recommendations for legislation.
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