Healthy Soil

America’s farms and ranches provide food, fuel, and fiber for a growing population, but this productivity often comes with environmental costs: Fertilizer and pesticides running into your local creek or favorite fishing hole. Fewer waterfowl – and more flooding – due to drained wetlands and plowed-up grasslands. Blankets of algae covering lakes large and small. Chances are that you’ve seen agriculture’s impact firsthand.

The Izaak Walton League has been involved in agriculture policy since 1937, when we called for a national program to retire fields in mountainous areas from agricultural use. We’ve come a long way since then in understanding the impact of our agricultural system on soil, waters, and wildlife – and how to lessen those impacts. With your help, we can promote conservation in agriculture policy and on-the-ground practices.

Our Reports

States Take Action on Soil Health

Around the nation, states are stepping up to promote creative soil health solutions. The Nebraska Legislature passed LB 243, which will create a Healthy Soils Task Force charged with developing a comprehensive healthy soils initiative for the state. New Mexico enacted HB 204, creating a Healthy Soil Program to promote and support farming and ranching systems that increase soil health, including development of a network of soil health champions.

New York Soil Health, an initiative coordinated by Cornell University, produced the New York Soil Health Roadmap to identify strategies for integrating soil health goals with state priorities, such as climate change and water quality. In Illinois, the State Senate voted 56-0 to approve SB 1980, which would add “soil health” to the declared purposes of the state’s 97 soil and water conservation districts. The bill is awaiting action by the Illinois House of Representatives.

These are just a few of the soil health initiatives the League is supporting around the country. To learn more, read our new report.

State & Local Soil Health Strategies:

Building Soil Health Policy from the Ground Up


Conservation Programs Can Help Solve Multiple Problems

Focusing federal, state, and local dollars on farm and ranch conservation practices can help solve multiple problems facing rural areas. Smart conservation strategies can reduce polluted runoff, provide habitat for fish and wildlife, improve soil health, and address climate change.

Congress is writing a new Farm Bill; states are working to reduce excess nutrients, pesticides, and bacteria in our waters; and federal, state, and local agencies are seeking cost-effective solutions to natural resource problems. Prioritizing practices that address more than one natural resource will produce the most conservation “bang” for our taxpayer bucks.

A new report from the League covers five such practices. While use of these five practices is growing, none are in place on more than one-third of America’s farm and ranch lands. There is clearly room for improvement.

Each of these conservation practices benefits water quality, wildlife, and soil health, and each can help store substantially more carbon in the soil. When these practices are used in combination, the benefits multiply and can supercharge the regeneration of healthy soils. To learn more, read our new report.

Leveraging Conservation Dollars:

Agricultural Practices that Deliver

Water Quality, Wildlife Habitat, and Soil Health

What Is the Farm Bill?

National farm policy was first developed in the 1930s to mitigate the catastrophic economic impact of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl on America’s farm and rural economies. The Izaak Walton League became involved in agricultural policy in 1937, when the League adopted a resolution calling for a national program to retire fields in mountainous areas from agricultural use.

The Farm Bill is a package of laws that governs a broad array of federal policies, including farm income support, food assistance, agricultural trade, marketing, conservation, and rural development. Congress revisits the policies covered in this legislation approximately every five years through a reauthorization process that revises, adds, removes, and extends components of federal law.

The Farm Bill has greater impact on more U.S. land than any other single piece of federal legislation. Consider that the contiguous 48 states cover 1.9 billion acres of land, of which 71 percent is privately held rural land. Excluding forest land, the private land in agricultural use totals nearly 1 billion acres. By comparison, the surface area of developed land is just 6 percent of total U.S. land use, or 111 million acres. There have been 17 Farm Bills in our nation’s history, beginning with the bill approved in 1933. The most recent Farm Bill was the Agriculture Act of 2014, which was signed into law in February 2014.

2018 Farm Bill

Congress passed a new five-year Farm Bill and the president signed it into law in December 2018. It includes several League priorities, such as full funding for conservation programs; Swampbuster and Sodbuster provisions that protect wetlands and conserve soil; and more funds for conservation easements that pay farmers to protect wetlands, native prairie, and other farmland. The bill also increases the cap on Conservation Reserve Program enrollments to 27 million acres (a boost of 3 million acres) and increases funds to support state and tribal programs that provide hunting and recreation access on private farm and ranch lands.

The League didn’t get everything we wanted out of the new Farm Bill, but it represents a renewal of America’s commitment to fund conservation on farms and ranches.

Learn more about the new Farm Bill and how it affects the natural resources you care about in these "Soil Matters" blogs: