September 9, 2016
In an effort to spur innovation in agricultural production and sustainable management, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $26 million to 45 projects that show promise in promoting on-farm conservation. The awards are issued through USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program – part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Since its establishment as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, 414 agricultural innovation projects have been awarded.
This year’s CIG awards focus on the themes of water quality, conservation finance, and assistance to historically underserved USDA customers; approximately $6.5 million (25%) of the awards have been targeted toward projects benefiting undeserved communities, veterans and beginning farmers.
“The Conservation Innovation Grant program is a highly competitive conservation grant program that helps put the very best conservation tools to work on privately held farms and forests, for maximum environmental impact,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Given the highly competitive and worthy pool of applicants, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is proud to have four of our member organizations among those awarded. NSAC member organization projects include:
This project will receive $162,002 to train three target farmer populations – women, veteran, and beginning farmers – through peer-group learning, field demonstrations, and access to soil experts, using approaches customized to each target group. Participating farmers will learn how to select and implement conservation practices informed by climate and soil science. These farmers will benefit from economically and environmentally improved operations, and will stand as leaders for conservation in their communities.
The CIG project will also advance climate and soil-informed conservation on a broader level, by (1) engaging conservation professionals and expanding their capacity to aid farmers in these topics, and (2) developing and sharing recommendations to improve the ability of federal and state conservation programs to facilitate proactive conservation informed by climate and soil science.
Practical Farmers of Iowa will receive $400,912 to test a new model for conservation adoption to increase the acres of small grains grown as a third crop in the corn and soybean rotation. Using the CIG grant, the project will: (1) improve market access through supply chain engagement, (2) support farmer adoption and awareness of the widespread benefits of small grains, and (3) incentivize the delay in benefits to the farmer (both in terms of yield and markets) through cost share payments.
This project will also advance knowledge and connectivity in the field by developing a Rotation Expert Network, which will serve to increase awareness of the co-benefits, structural barriers, and opportunities for increasing adoption of extended rotation with key stakeholders. Ultimately, 3000 acres of corn and soybeans are expected to be part of a rotation with small grains and legumes by the end of the project.
In partnership with Oregon Tilth (another NSAC member organization) plus major food companies, agricultural investors, and conservation-minded farmers, the Xerces Society will receive $351,028 to develop and launch a first-of-its-kind certification program that incentivizes the large-scale adoption of pollinator conservation through a marketing-driven and third party certification platform.
This program, supported by its CIG award and known as Bee Better Farming, will leverage scalable investments from the private sector to develop clearly defined pollinator conservation metrics that will be rewarded with a formally recognized certification.
The Women, Food and Agriculture Network was awarded $553,124 for its CIG project — Women Caring for the Land: Engaging urban absentee landowners to adopt conservation. During 20 years of work on women’s agricultural outreach, the Women, Food and Agriculture Network has verified that women inheriting land, if they have not been actively involved with agriculture, are at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to awareness, understanding, and confidence in conservation on their land.
Trends in land tenure in the Midwest show a generational turnover of land ownership and women inheriting farmland need conservation resources. This is an innovative project as it targets an audience that currently has no specialized outreach, and it will require innovative strategies to be successful.
In addition to these four NSAC member group awards, we also call special attention to an exciting and innovative organic transition project among this year’s CIG awards. NSAC, in partnership with the Organic Farming Research Foundation, is currently engaged in an organic transition policy development project, and we will be very interested in following this CIG project as it gets implemented.
Iroquois Valley Farms will receive $944,715 to develop “Soil Restoration Notes” that will be sold to investors so that the company can reduce rental rates to its farmers who are transitioning to organic production. In addition, the company will offer increased technical support that can help farmers improve soil quality and better access to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Delta Institute will work with Iroquois Valley Farms to analyze the carbon sequestration benefits of these efforts and develop a structure that will allow the Soil Restoration Notes to be utilized by other social impact companies and efforts. This CIG will offer a model for scaling up innovative financing strategies so that private-public partnerships can be used to help the next generation of farmers restore our soils, clean our water and reduce the impacts of climate change.
A list of all 45 CIG awards for fiscal year 2016 can be found on the NRCS website here.