WHRC scientist submits testimony to MA legislature on soil health

Testimony of Dr. Jonathan Sanderman, Soil Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center
Regarding H.3713, An Act to promote healthy soils
Before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture
September 12, 2017

Dear Committee members,

Thank you for this opportunity to testify. On behalf of the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) I am pleased to offer this written testimony in support of H.3713, An Act to promote healthy soils.

WHRC is an independent research institute where scientists investigate the causes and effects of climate change to identify and implement opportunities for conservation, restoration, and economic development around the world.

I am a soil scientist by training who has spent much of my career understanding the soil carbon cycle. In particular, I have worked extensively in agricultural systems trying to determine how different management practices can diminish or improve soil carbon levels and soil health more generally.

Maintaining and restoring soil health is now recognized as one of the key principles to sustaining agricultural productivity gains while minimizing agriculture’s environmental footprint. Improving soil health also results in more resilient farming systems that are more capable of withstanding drought and temperate extremes. Increasing soil carbon levels, one of the key components of a healthy soil, is also an important response to climate change. Better soil stewardship is a win-win for agriculture and for the climate. My own research has shown that broad adoption of best management practices has the potential to offset at least 10% of current fossil fuel emissions. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts should be helping its farmers lead the country in a soil health revolution.

I would also stress that in order for H.3713 to be successful there needs to be a mechanism to monitor changes in soil health. Simply switching management to something that can be considered “regenerative agriculture” does not guarantee improvements in soil health or sequestration of carbon in the soil. There is very limited data available to guide expectations. A program similar to California’s Health Soils Initiative would provide critically needed data to guide Massachusetts’ growers into adopting the most effective locally adapted management strategies.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Jonathan Sanderman, Associate Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center