Commentary: Official soil or new technology in New York

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Who has the right to claim having the soil that should be named the official New York state soil? There apparently was a hubbub in the New York legislature recently on what was the official state soil.

I don’t care what state legislature it is. There should not be time spent debating what soil to proclaim as the state soil. There are 1,000 more important things to discuss, and agriculture shouldn’t be associated with something like this that the public sees as taking time away from other issues of state interest.

State Sen. John J. Bonacic wanted to honor the so-called “black dirt” prevalent in his downstate district in a bill he introduced. Trying to explain the difference between muck soils, which apparently are hard to maintain as quality soils over a long period of time, and mineral soils doesn’t help improve the image of farming or earn support of agriculture in a state legislature.

Spending time on legislative bills that assist in adoption of best management practices in agriculture and assisting farmers in obtaining new technology for farming would be much better time spent (One reader definitely disagrees with my position by claiming a federal conservation program for muck soils is needed, and this is an honest reason for legislature attention.)

New York state is known as a state that stands in the way of new technology adoption with its own red-tape regulatory process for approval of pesticides, only slower than California in general. The state appears to want to fund regulators and bureaucracy separate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.      

So, the dirt discussion seems quite foolish, but Cornell University even took time away from other topics to issue a statement explaining that black dirt isn’t a true descriptor of soil.

Jonathan Matthew Russell-Anelli, a senior lecturer of crop and soil sciences at Cornell University and a soils expert, said, “There is a great diversity of soils across the state including the ‘black dirt’ or muck soils found in Orange and Dutchess counties. These are not a single soil, but rather a spectrum of soils made from organic materials that have been collecting in wetlands in the landscape since the last ice age, approximately 23,000 years ago.

“These muck soils, which have names such as Carlisle and Muskego, are extremely important agricultural soils that are found in parts of New York as well as the northeastern United States. They are very fertile, easy to plow, and great for onions and other cash crops. But as muck soils are often comprised completely of organic materials, they can easily decompose and even under the best management, are not sustainable as agricultural lands.

“It turns out that New York already has a state soil named Honeoye, which covers in excess of 240,000 acres and forms the base for New York’s most productive field and vegetable crops. It is a mineral soil, and while it has organic matter in it, with proper management it can continue to be sustainable and highly productive for the foreseeable future.

“While never legislatively established in New York, it was selected as the unofficial state soil in the 1980s due to its extreme importance for New York agriculture. It has already represented our state both nationally and internationally for quite some time, and was recently part of Smithsonian exhibit on our National Mall in Washington D.C. It is also a uniquely New York soil, found nowhere else in the world.”

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Chris Pawelski    
Orange County, NY  |  April, 02, 2013 at 02:07 PM

I'm sorry, but your position is dead wrong. I actually work on public policy issues connected with ag in NYS and have been doing it for 17 years. This issue is neither trivial nor non important. It's not a joke, and I actually said that during the interview on YNN, though that line didn't make the cut ( name-new-york-s-official-state-soil/). I emphasized how appreciative we farmers are for the efforts of Senator Bonacic and Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt and others who recognize how important ag is to the upstate economy and for their efforts to highlight and promote it. I emphasized that such designations are not trivial and down the road can be used for serious marketing and promotion projects. The back dirt has a rich cultural history in this region and across the state and really carries a visceral reaction, especially with consumers in NYC. My wife and I have worked for years on a getting a new federal conservation program for black dirt or muck soils called COMS. It almost got in the 2008 Farm Bill and we are trying very hard to get it into the new Farm Bill. There is no companion or competitive type of initiative for the other type of soil. Getting black dirt designated as the official soil in NYS is just another mechanism for helping get COMS into the Farm Bill. introduce-muck-soils-bills-in-house-and-senate

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