Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $40 million this year for 31 new projects through its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, one of the ways USDA brings together partners to develop innovative approaches to climate-smart agriculture. Additionally, USDA is announcing a $19 million investment in two projects focused on nutrient management funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and two new formal partnerships to further nutrient management implementation.
These investments emphasize adoption and implementation of climate-smart practices, including nutrient management, which helps producers manage nutrients and soil amendments to maximize their economic benefit while minimizing their environmental impact.
Vilsack announced the investments at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, where he highlighted the development and adoption of new and innovative technologies and systems that will boost conservation efforts and agricultural production across the country. The announcement reflects the goals of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to rebuild the economy from the bottom-up and middle-out and unleash an innovation boom that is Made in America.
“Addressing climate change is a tremendous challenge, but agriculture plays an important role, and we’re grateful for our many partners who are helping us confront the challenge head on. These new projects and agreements are working to mitigate climate change, conserve and protect our water, enhance soil health and create economic opportunities for producers,” said Vilsack. “We’re empowering our partners to develop new tools, technologies and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop cost-effective solutions to resource challenges.”
Iowa-based partners are two of the 14 partners with funded CIG On-Farm Trials projects. This year, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing $25 million through On-Farm Trials, which supports more widespread adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation approaches in partnership with agricultural producers. Incentive payments are provided to producers to offset the risk of implementing innovative approaches.
In Iowa through On-Farm Trials:
Iowa State University of Science and Technology will demonstrate the advantages of a relay intercropping system to maintain or enhance productivity and profitability while improving soil health and increasing nutrient reductions. A diverse intercropping system will add cropping system resiliency and promote a more diversified and stable community of soil organisms, from microbes to earthworms, while suppressing pathogens and crop pests and benefitting nutrient cycling and soil structure.
The Iowa Soybean Association is promoting the adoption of newly synthesized cropping systems that increase profitability, reduce nutrient losses and improve soil health. Project objectives include characterizing profitability and natural resource outcomes for improved cropping systems and developing new economic insights, natural resource conservation, and improved cropping system stability via crop modeling and statistical analysis.
Meanwhile, NRCS is investing $15 million in 17 projects through CIG Classic, which enables partners to develop new tools, technologies, and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges.
See the NRCS website for the list of all CIG Classic and CIG On-Farm Trials awarded projects.
For fiscal year 2022, NRCS set aside targeted funds for CIG Classic and On-Farm proposals that entirely benefit underserved producers, which includes producers who have previously lacked access or not participated in NRCS programs. This includes socially disadvantaged producers, military veterans, beginning farmers and limited-resource producers. Additionally, applicants competing for these set-aside funds were able to waive the non-federal match requirements.
Additional funding will be available for CIG On-Farm Trials for fiscal year 2023. The IRA provided $19.5 billion to support climate-smart practices through NRCS conservation programs, enabling NRCS to invest $50 million per year from fiscal years 2023 to 2027 for CIG On-Farm Trials. As part of the next call for proposals, NRCS will prioritize applications that focus on diet and feed management to reduce enteric methane emissions from livestock. More information on the fiscal year 2023 call for proposals is forthcoming.
RCPP Nutrient Management Grants
NRCS awarded two grants through RCPP to help producers achieve more efficient nutrient management within targeted critical conservation areas (CCA):
Family Farms LLC will improve soil health and reduce the amount of nutrients applied to and lost from cropland in the Mississippi River Basin. This will be done through nutrient management plans that incorporate the addition of biochar to help conserve nutrients by enhancing nutrient efficiency.
The Environmental Initiative, Inc. will use “nutrientsheds” – interconnected networks of geographically close farms to move and balance nutrient needs – to mitigate excess nutrient run-off adversely affecting the watershed. Within each of the two proposed “nutrientsheds,” participating producers will obtain nutrient management plans so that manure at participating farms can be collected and processed through the partners’ centralized thermophilic anaerobic digesters.
Through RCPP Grants, the lead partner must work directly with agricultural producers to support the development of new conservation structures and approaches that would not otherwise be available under RCPP Classic.
The more than $19 million awarded through these grants builds on the $200 million in RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangement and RCPP Classic partnership projects previously awarded in fiscal year 2022.
The RCPP fiscal year 2023 funding opportunity will be announced in late Spring. The Inflation Reduction Act provided an additional $4.95 billion in RCPP over four years starting in fiscal year 2023 to accelerate the adoption of conservation practices that help producers prepare for and mitigate against the impacts of climate change.
Nutrient Management MOUs
Additionally, as part of its effort to increase use of nutrient management practices, NRCS has also recently signed two Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) that further its conservation efforts targeted at improving nutrient management:
American Society of Agronomy (ASA) and its International Certified Crop Adviser (ICCA) Program establishes a framework enabling ASA to recommend individuals for the NRCS Technical Service Provider (TSP) program. The TSP program enables certified individuals outside of NRCS to provide among other things, nutrient management plans to producers and landowners.
Truterra (a Land O’ Lakes company) intends to explore opportunities to expand nutrient management adoption and increase technical capabilities of producers and landowners; assess the capabilities and tools of Truterra to deliver nutrient management technical assistance; expedite and streamline the technical assistance delivery system; and collaborate on assessment tools and opportunities to expedite producer participation in broader NRCS programs.
NRCS will continue to leverage additional partnerships to expand capacity and reach new producers with technical and financial assistance.
NRCS has prioritized projects that serve underserved producers through CIG and RCPP in recent years. Additionally, NRCS is investing up to $70 million in cooperative agreements with entities for two-year outreach projects that will increase participation by underserved producers and underserved communities in conservation programs and enhance opportunities for students to pursue careers in agriculture, natural resources and related sciences.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.