Investing in conservation innovation is important

By Tom Vilsack

    Earlier this week, USDA announced $15.7 million in Conservation Innovation Grants to 47 organizations that will help develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to help farmers and ranchers continue to improve conservation practices on their operations.
    More than half of this year’s awardees focus on preserving and improving soil health, which leads to improved water quality, increased soil water availability, enhanced resilience and nutrient cycling, captured carbon, among many other vital natural resource needs.

    The program has been an extremely popular and competitive program with our conservation partners, universities, and private industry, among others. This year’s 47 awardees are represented by 24 universities, 13 non-profit organizations, two soil and water conservation districts, and one resource conservation and development council. Since 2009, we’ve invested a total of $126 million in 323 novel conservation projects.
    Highlights of this year’s projects include:
    The National Grazing Lands Coalition’s project will conduct outreach, education and demonstration activities on how prescribed grazing impacts pasture and range productivity, conservation and soil health. That will be in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, New York, and North Dakota. The goal of this project is to show that livestock producers need to also think of themselves as a grass farmer – not just a livestock producer. And really, we want them to take it one step further – to look at themselves as a soil manager.
    North Carolina Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation, Inc. will demonstrate and quantify the impacts of multi-species cover crops in different production systems common to the Southeastern region. Cover crops are a key to soil health and address multiple resource concerns on agricultural lands.
    County of Carlton in Minnesota will demonstrate and evaluate an innovative whole farm approach to soil health in northeast Minnesota by including a variety of conservation practices in a systems approach. This project will demonstrate and evaluate an innovative whole farm approach to soil health by including a variety of conservation practices systematically.
    Copper River-Ahtna Inter-Tribal Resource Conservation District in Alaska will develop technical expertise on wildlife, habitat and forestry and provide advisory services to land managers for two native corporations and eight regional tribes. These activities will help USDA better serve its primary clientele in Alaska and will help other tribal conservation districts recognize their opportunities to positively support sustainable subsistence food production in their districts.
    Western Riverside County Agriculture Coalition in California will develop and pilot water quality trading program rules and infrastructure to support nonpoint source-to-nonpoint source trading in the San Jacinto River watershed using a stakeholder-based approach. USDA supports environmental market systems like this one because they help keep working lands working while also leading to cleaner water downstream.
    To learn more about how the Farm Bill impacts your state, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.
  Tom Vilsack is secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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