Soil fertility is critical to good crop yields. The Commonwealth is endowed with high-quality, prime farmland throughout the State. Healthy soils provide many benefits in addition to greater yields – they require less fertilizer and less irrigation, and they help to minimize runoff. Maintaining healthy soils is also an important climate mitigation and adaptation strategy, as healthy soils sequester carbon and are more tolerant of both drought and severe precipitation events. So called “carbon farming” recognizes and rewards farmers for management actions that have environmental benefits, such as reduced water use and runoff.
Soil erosion can lead to a loss in soil fertility, as well as to contamination of adjacent water bodies with nutrients and solids carried in runoff. Over-application of nutrients, in addition to being an unnecessary expense, can also result in polluted water, exacerbating the aquatic invasive species problem. In urban settings, soil contamination can limit opportunities to expand production and requires assessment, remediation, and, in some cases, soil replacement.
USDA-NRCS, UMass Extension, UMass Amherst’s Department of Resource Economics, MACC, and other technical assistance providers assist farmers in nutrient management planning and will be integral in providing support for implementing this plan’s recommendations. Recently, MDAR regulations on plant nutrient use have been released and will apply to agricultural lands in December 2015. These regulations will require farms ten acres or larger to develop and follow nutrient management plans, which will result in a new demand for new nutrient management planning. A comprehensive and coordinated technical assistance effort will be needed to help farmers meet this new regulatory requirement.