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USDA Awards Fifty-Nine Conservation Innovation Grants

August 28, 2012

Last week, USDA Secretary Vilsack announced the award of $26 million in Conservation Innovation Grant Program (CIG) funding to 59 projects in 47 states.  The CIG program, which is part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, requires that CIG grant funding is matched 1:1 with funding from project sponsors.

Water Quality Trading Awards

Twelve of the grants were targeted to Water Quality Credit Trading projects.  In general, under nutrient credit trading schemes, sources of nutrient loading that are regulated under the federal Clean Water Act or state laws can obtain nutrient credits from reductions in nutrient loading by non-regulated sources of nutrient loading.  Regulated sources include industries, publicly owned sewage treatment works, and concentrated animal feeding operations.  For many nutrient credit trading schemes, the major source of nutrient credits is expected to be reductions of nitrogen and phosphorus from surface runoff and subsurface leaching from farm fields.

The CIG awards for Water Quality Trading include awards to state agencies and organizations in the Chesapeake Bay Region for projects that can facilitate intrastate and interstate water quality credit trading for nutrients and sediment under a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load program established in 2010.

A CIG grant was also given to the Electric Power Research Institute, which this year launched an interstate water quality trading compact with Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky to establish water quality pilot trades in the Ohio River Basin.

Another grant went to the Willamette Partnership in Oregon, which facilitates trades for water temperature reduction credits related to improving salmon habitat.  The Partnership will use the award to develop a multistate agreement for a water quality and temperature agreement and credit trading framework that includes Washington and Idaho as well as Oregon.

Other CIG grants were awarded for the development and testing of nutrient management and assessment tools for phosphorus and nitrogen.

Three of these grants involved multi-state projects for evaluating and increasing the consistency among states of Phosphorous Indices and other USDA conservation program tools for the management of phosphorus and nitrogen from agricultural sources.  These awards include a grant to the University of Missouri to validate and improve Phosphorus Indices in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska and a grant to North Carolina State University to refine and regionalize phosphorus assessment tools in 10 southern states. A third award was given to the University of Arkansas for a nationwide project to develop Phosphorus Indices and predictive models approved under NRCS Conservation Practice Standard 590 (Nutrient Management).  The overall goal of this project is the development of a harmonized framework that yields consistent Phosphorus-based risk assessment across the U.S.

Cover Crop and Tillage Awards

Eleven of the CIG awards were provided to projects to demonstrate the benefits of cover crops and reduced tillage in a wide variety of cropping systems.  Multi-state projects included an award to the University of Kansas to demonstrate no-till systems and cover crops for vegetable production in Kansas and Missouri.  Another multistate award was given to the University of Pennsylvania for a project to establish on-farm winter cover crop interseeding trials in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  The project includes demonstration of the nutrient management benefits of coupling cover crop interseeding strategies with an online assessment tool for nitrogen management.

The following awards involving cover crops were provided for work in a single state:

➢ University of California: a project to demonstrate soil quality improvements and other benefits of efficient tillage and legume cover crops in tomato and cotton production;
➢ Kosciusko County Indiana Soil & Water Conservation District: a project to establish and monitor the effect of cover crop planting on tile drain nutrient and sediment export;
➢ Purdue University: a project to demonstrate field management systems including cover cropping to capture nutrients from filed-applied swine manure;
➢ Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts: a project to establish training and demonstration hubs in the state to integrate long-term continuous no-till/strip-till, cover crops, precision technology, nutrient management and pest management practices into farming systems;
➢ Michigan State University: a project that includes demonstration and evaluation of cover crop mixtures on crop growth and soil quality in row crops;
➢ University of Missouri: a project to evaluate multipurpose cover crop and conservation practices for sustainable agriculture systems to improve soil health, environmental quality and farm productivity;
➢ University of Nebraska: a project to provide data, information and collaborations for integration of water balance, energy balance and microclimate parameters in recommendations for cover crop and management practices for field crop production;
➢ Oklahoma State University: a project to demonstrate and communicate to farmers the adaptability and benefits of cover crops and “cover crop cocktails” to farmers, ranchers, Extension personnel and NRCS personnel; and
➢ West Virginia University Research Corporation: a project to demonstrate the benefits of integrating cover crops into high tunnel production systems.

A full list of FY2012 CIG awards is available on the Program’s website.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Grants and Programs

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