Enacts new Article 6, Health Soils Program, to GS Chapter 139. Sets forth legislative findings and the purpose of the Article. Provides seven defined terms. Declares State policy concerning the conservation and proper stewardship and use of soil and water resources. States three goals and objectives of the Healthy Soils and Watershed Program, including improving agricultural viability and farm profitability.
Establishes the Health Soils and Watershed Fund (Fund) as a special fund within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to support the Healthy Soils and Watershed Program as provided in the Article including through grants, research, technical assistance, educational material, and outreach. Requires DACS to annually report to the Governor and the NCGA on the receipts, expenditures, and activities funded by the Program and the results of the activities. Provides for the funds to remain available until expended. Directs the Water and Soil Conservation Commission (Commission) to annually report to the specified NCGA committee and division on the list of projects funded by the Program, findings regarding the Program's effectiveness, and recommendations for additional funding and legislation.
Directs the Commission to do the following, subject to the funding availability: (1) implement a voluntary program to assist in improving soil health (as defined), watershed health (as defined), water quality, and wildlife habitat; (2) assist agricultural producers, ranchers, foresters, and property owners in soil health assessments and in developing soil health plans; and (3) assist agricultural producers with health soil practices (as defined) to achieve five specified outcomes, including controlling soil erosion and sedimentation, improving soil health and quantity, improving watershed health and reliable water availability, restoring and enhancing wildlife habitat, and managing water runoff and drainage water for improved local and downstream water quality.
Directs DACS, subject to funding availability, to make grants and incentives to farmers, foresters, and agricultural cooperatives to enhance the education, training, employment, income, productivity, and retention of those working or aspiring to work in the field of health soil practices and to implement healthy soil practices. Requires grants to be competitive to public, private, and charitable entities to finance projects in furtherance of the Program. Requires the Program's design to prioritize incentives, and provide no less than 25% of funds to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Requires Fund expenditures to supplement other funding. Allows DACS to use up to $50,000 of funds allocated to the Program in each fiscal year for administrative costs.
Places primary responsibility with the Commission regarding education materials; training and mobilizing technical service providers to encourage voluntary soil and water health stewardship, including entering into necessary maintenance and easement agreements; training of technical assistance providers, property owners, land managers, and others regarding sampling; collaborating with DACS and NC State University in developing equitable criteria for awarding grants; and consulting and collaborating with DACS and NC State University to support all soil and watershed health initiative goals, objectives, and components established by the Article.
Authorizes the Commission to adopt implementing rules, in consultation with DACS, NC State University, and the Department of Environmental Quality.
Bill H 798 (2021-2022)Summary date: May 3 2021 - View summary