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Courtesy New Mexico Department of Agriculture

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture is accepting Healthy Soil Program project grant proposals from eligible entities until Oct. 3 at 5 p.m. The program is a result of the Healthy Soil Act signed into law in April 2019. Projects can center around farms or rangeland.

If water is the lifeblood, soil is the foundation for healthy gardens, forests, grasslands and other ecosystems.

In an effort to help farmers and ranchers develop and maintain soil that is rich in nutrients, microbes and the ability to retain water, the state Department of Agriculture is accepting grant applications for its Healthy Soil Program.

Projects should be focused on increasing biodiversity on a piece of land, covering the soil, minimizing disturbance on cropland, maintaining a living root and integrating animals into land management, according to a press release.

New Mexico farmers and ranchers interested in applying have until 5 p.m., Monday (Aug. 3). Applications must be submitted through an eligible entity, such as a Soil and Water Conservation District; a tribe, nation, or pueblo; or a land grant or acequia. Those entities will review the applications they receive and then forward the applications they approve to NMDA by 5 p.m. on Oct. 8. Late applications will not be accepted.

"I encourage farmers, ranchers and all eligible entities to apply for this program, which is geared toward improving New Mexico's soil health," said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte. "We received 84 applications as part of the pilot program last year. Based on feedback from applicants and eligible entities during the program's first year, our team has made several improvements to the entire process."

Healthy soil is rich in organic matter and holds water well instead of shedding it off. Whether it is a small backyard, container gardens or a large ranch, building and keeping soil healthy is important for growing plants.

One easy way to know, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is to count your earthworms. An acre of healthy soil contains more than a million and a half earthworms while an acre of poor soil has about 250,000. On a smaller scale, a shovel of soil with one earthworm or less isn't too healthy; a shovel full of healthy soil will have at least 10 earthworms.

Taos Soil and Water Conservation Service is one of the eligible entities through which Taos County farmers and ranchers can apply for the grants. Contact them at tswcd.org.

For more information or to download a streamlined, fillable application, visit nmda.nmsu.edu or call (575) 646-2642.

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