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USDA Funds Innovative Tech Approaches to Improve Conservation on Private Lands

Photo: USDA

Photo: USDA

The national CIG program has two parts: CIG Classic and CIG On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $15 million to conservation partners across the country for 19 new projects under the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. These projects focus on helping agricultural producers mitigate the effects of climate change and increase the resilience of their operations. Many of the projects within this announcement will focus on providing conservation benefits for historically undeserved producers.

According to USDA, CIG is a competitive program that supports the development of new tools, approaches, practices and technologies to further natural resource conservation on private lands. Through creative problem solving and innovation, CIG harnesses the expertise, resources, and capacity of partner organizations nationwide to help boost natural resource conservation on private lands and support climate smart agriculture.

“Innovation is key to addressing the climate crisis and conserving the natural resources we all depend on,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “CIG partners are using the latest science and research to come up with solutions that work for farmers, ranchers and foresters and help ensure the longevity of American agriculture.”

Funding priorities for this year included: climate-smart strategies for water resources; soil health (focused on climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience); nutrient management; grazing lands conservation; and strategies to increase conservation adoption.

This year’s awarded projects:

Enhanced Satellite Imagery Analysis Providing for Invasive Species Control in the Chickasaw Nation (Oklahoma)

The Chickasaw Nation will use satellite imagery to address invasive red cedar populations and improve the accuracy of applying prescribed burning as a solution.

High Clearance Robotic Irrigator for In-Season Nutrient Management (Ohio, Iowa)

The Ohio State University will demonstrate the 360 High Clearance Robotic Irrigation System for in-season nutrient applications, which aligns nutrient application timing to a crop’s nutrient needs and improves irrigation efficiency.

Ugly to Beautiful: Changing the Visual Acceptability of Cover Crops (Minnesota)

National Wildlife Federation will develop and test a multi-faceted media campaign to build supportive social and visual norms around soil health practices to see if farmer attitudes about conservation shift.

Stewardship Ambassadors – Women Landowners Educating Farmers and Other Landowners to Motivate Conservation Change (Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin)

In order to expand the implementation of regenerative conservation practices, Women, Food and Agriculture Network will establish a stewardship ambassador program for women beginning farm owners.

Social Science to Drive Brush Management in the High Plains (Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma)

By identifying adoption barriers and addressing current perceptions on brush management Playa Lakes Joint Venture will improve management efforts of shrub encroachment on grasslands.

Transforming the Community, Climate, and Soil Health of Urban Agriculture through Applying Food Waste Derived Fertilizers in Community Learning Gardens (California)

The Latino Equity, Advocacy, and Policy Institute will test and demonstrate the use of food waste digestate as a liquid fertilizer and compost application in an urban agriculture system.

Conservation in Action – Diffusion of Education to Foster Adoption of Enhanced Nitrogen and Irrigation Management Practices (California)

California Department of Food and Agriculture will increase producer adoption of conservation practices addressing irrigation and nitrogen by focusing on late adopters.

Incentivizing Conservation Adoption through New Digital Marketplace Tools and Price Discovery (Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Wisconsin)

The Croatan Institute will use high tech market tools for food transactions to bring together farmers and food buyers to help establish market values.

Exemplary Forestry Investment Fund (Maine)

Maine Mountain Collaborative will launch the Exemplary Forest Investment Fund, which will blend dollars from philanthropy and investment sources to secure large forest parcels and manage them according to set standards.

Increasing the Pace and Scale of Adoption of Prescribed Grazing through Virtual Fence Technology (Colorado, Oklahoma)

Oklahoma State University will increase producer adoption of virtual fencing through the development of standards and specifications for the technology to achieve water quality, wildlife and other conservation objectives.

Managing Rangelands with Virtual Fencing (Colorado)

Eagle County Conservation District will examine the use of virtual fencing on topographically challenging western rangeland areas to help improve acceptance and credibility.

Promoting Innovations in Animal Waste Management Phase II (North Carolina)

NC Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation will develop a low-cost passive solar waste drying system to help farmers handle bulky wet manures and facilitate manure transfers from areas with heavy nutrient buildup.

Nutrient Loading Reduction through Phosphorus Recovery Demonstration Program (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio)

The Maumee Watershed Alliance (MWA) will demonstrate phosphorus recovery technologies at three different sites with the aim of illustrating 80% total phosphorus removal over extended demonstration periods. The MWA will also explore the market value of two resultant co-products – dewatered manure solids and Amorphous Calcium Phosphate.

Overcoming Cover Crop Adoption Barriers in Dryland Production Systems by Enhancing Water Use Efficiency and Soil Health (South Dakota)

South Dakota State University will use four research sites to demonstrate potential benefits of organic amendments (biochar, manure, etc.) on improving soil function and cover crop performance in dryland, no-till production.

Hemp4Soil: Growing Hemp Improves Soil Health and Helps Stabilize the Climate (Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia)

Heartland Corporate Holdings will introduce hemp as a cover crop in nine states and quantify its benefits.

No-Till, Organic Market Gardens: Restoring Soil Health and Rebuilding Local Food Systems (Louisiana)

Urban gardens applying conservation practices have the potential to build soil health, increase climate resilience and improve the economic well-being of the producer. Campti Field of Dreams will create a model that can be scaled to support a diversified urban food system.

On-Farm Water Capture and Reuse: Performance Demonstration, Economic Feasibility, and Design Tool Development (North Carolina)

Through this demonstration project, North Carolina State University will evaluate the performance and economic feasibility of on-farm water capture, reuse of surface water and drainage for supplemental irrigation. The awardee will assess the ability of these on-farm ponds to increase crop drought resilience, protect water quality and mitigate flooding.

Low-Tech Process Based In-Stream Structures to Increase Climate Resiliency in the Great Plains (Kansas, Nebraska)

Extreme weather in the Great Plains has led to increased stream erosion and aquifer depletion, decreased pasture quality and a reduction in wildlife habitat quality. By studying the effects of implementing low-tech process-based structures in the Midwest, Juniper Environmental will determine how best to implement these structures as a tool for producers.

Mesoscale AI-Based Root-Zone Soil Moisture Monitoring for Efficient Farm Irrigation (Massachusetts, Michigan)

Using an artificial intelligence approach, Worcester Polytechnic Institute will develop a low-cost, high-speed 3D soil moisture monitoring technology that is produced via the integration of drones and radar, facilitating more efficient farm irrigation.

For full project descriptions, you can visit the NRCS website.

The national CIG program has two parts: CIG Classic and CIG On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. Through CIG Classic, partners develop new tools, technologies and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges. 

CIG On-Farm Trials support more widespread adoption of innovative approaches, practices and systems on working lands. NRCS and partners collaborate to implement on-the-ground conservation activities and then evaluate their impact. In November, NRCS awarded $25 million for 18 On-Farm Trials projects.

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