Montana Lawmakers Consider Designating a State Soil

Montana Lawmakers Consider Designating a State Soil

Proponents of a bill that would designate a Montana state soil are finding it to be a tough row to hoe in the Legislature so far.

The state Senate barely passed Senate Bill 176 on a 26-24 vote a bill to name the loam called Scobey soil, which makes Montana so bountiful for growing wheat, the state's official soil.

Fourth-graders at Bozeman's Longfellow School, who conceived the idea went to the Capitol last month to testify in favor of the proposal. They and the bill's sponsor, Sen. JP Pomnichowski, a Bozeman Democrat, face their next hurdle Tuesday at the House Agriculture Committee.

Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, argued on the Senate floor that the Legislature has much more important issues to dig into.

Brown said he himself has taught students about the importance of soil, but he reluctantly opposed the bill because voters didn't send him to Helena to get the warm feeling that comes from seeing little kids' eyes light up.

In the past, Brown said, he has had to vote against naming an official state pancake and state dragonfly, "and that wasn't fun either." Don't encourage more of these class-project bills, he urged fellow senators.

Pomnichowski called the proposal "the feel-good bill of this session" and argued that Scobey soil supports the state's $4.7 billion agriculture industry. Scobey soil also supports other state symbols, like the Western meadowlark (state bird), the bitterroot (state flower) and bluebunch wheatgrass (state grass).

She cited letters of support from Montana's two U.S. senators, Democrat Jon Tester, a farmer, and Republican Steve Daines, a Longfellow School alumnus. She quoted a message from a constituent who recalled an attempt by lawmakers to ban yoga pants, saying if that wasn't a waste of time, "I don't know what is."

Republican senators like John Brenden, of Scobey, and Brian Hoven, of Great Falls, supported the bill. Hoven said the "fourth-graders are onto something" that would make people more aware of the soil and its great importance.

"Scobey soil!" Hoven said. "It's the only soil that allows production of 60 to 70 bushels of winter wheat on 10 to 11 inches of water."

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that earlier, at the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, 25 people testified in favor and none against the bill.

Jerry Nielsen, a retired soil scientist in Bozeman, called Scobey soil one of the state's "soil treasures."

Tony Hartshorn, who teaches soil science at Montana State University, said it's important to raise awareness because Montana is losing its topsoil, which is blowing away to North Dakota and running down streams.

Mike Choriki, a crop consultant from Billings, said the United Nations projects that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet, and food production will need to increase by 70 percent to feed them. The UN has named 2015 the international year of soil to draw attention to the substance that's sustaining life of Earth, he said.

Longfellow teachers and several students, who used a stool to reach the microphone, testified about Scobey soil.

Students also made a website and video about why Scobey deserves to be named the state soil. It ends with "Soils rock."

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