USDA invests in 22 new projects to spur innovation in grazing lands, organic systems and soil health | TheFencePost.com

USDA invests in 22 new projects to spur innovation in grazing lands, organic systems and soil health

-NRCS

WASHINGTON – USDA will invest more than $10.6 million for 22 new projects that will drive public and private sector innovation in conserving natural resources in 27 states. The competitive Conservation Innovation Grants program helps spur development and adoption of new conservation approaches and technologies.

"Through our Conservation Innovation Grants, we are able to bring together a wide array of groups to drive innovation and spur cutting-edge projects," said USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey. "This year's competition resulted in an impressive array of proposals that will ultimately benefit the people who grow our food and fiber."

Through this grant program, public and private grantees — including non-governmental organizations, American Indian tribes, academic institutions and local government entities — leverage the federal investment by providing a match or cost share that is at least equal to the amount of federal funding requested.

This year's projects focus on three priorities: grazing lands, organic agriculture systems and soil health. Since 2004, USDA has invested more than $297 million for 732 projects.

This year's projects include plans to develop a system that uses field measurements and remote sensing data to assess the impacts of grazing. The results will be integrated into the web-based Climate Engine Rangeland Tool that ranchers and land managers use to analyze and visualize forage availability, utilization and grazing intensity.

Another proposal will seek to increase the use of no-till agriculture in organic systems by exploring which innovations in cover crop selection, planting dates, roller type, planter modifications and termination methods lead to the most successful organic no-till outcomes for soil health, corn and soybean yields and farm profitability.

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One project will work to increase demand for small grains as animal feed and cover crop seed to provide crucial secondary markets needed for farmers to increase small grain acres in the Corn Belt. These innovations are expected to bring food, feed, and seed companies together to collaborate around multi-commodity rotations to increase soil health.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service funds Conservation Innovation Grants through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The maximum grant is $2 million per project, and projects can take up to three years. These projects are designed to engage eligible producers in conservation activities that accelerate the transfer and adoption of innovative conservation technologies and approaches.

NRCS uses these grants to work with other public and private entities to accelerate transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches to address some of the nation's most pressing natural resource concerns.

Projects in The Fence Post readership area:

The Nature Conservancy of Colorado (CO, KS, MT, SD, ID)

Funds Requested: $427,164

Expanding and Testing the Utility of Land Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) – an Open Source Grazing Land Evaluation Tool for Ranchers

Rancher access to comprehensive information about land potential enhances adaptive management, and having tools for easy, meaningful monitoring is critical. By using the free, open source Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) mobile app, ranchers can rapidly identify soils and inventory and monitor vegetation for use in management decisions. The Nature Conservancy of Colorado proposes to create two new LandPKS modules to enable ranchers to monitor forage utilization and assess wildlife habitat potential. TNC will engage ranchers in implementing, testing and evaluating LandPKS as a tool for rangeland assessment and management.

Kansas State University (KS, OK)

Funds Requested: $100,631

Developing a Decision Tool to Assist Management of Prescribed Fires in the Flint Hills Region in Order to Reduce Smoke Impact on Ambient Ozone

Kansas State University proposes to develop practical ozone forecasting models and a decision support system for smoke management in the Flint Hills region. Development of this system is designed to encourage and enable the continuous practice of prescribed rangeland burning and maintenance of grassland ecosystems in a manner that minimizes adverse air quality and social impacts. This project will help land managers better plan their burning, reduce smoke impact, and encourage more burning when conditions are favorable.

Colorado State University (CO)

Funds Requested: $343,107

Next Generation Technology for Monitoring Edge-of-Field Water Quality in Organic Agriculture

Colorado State University proposes to develop new low‐cost edge‐of‐field monitoring approaches to monitor the water quality impacts of conservation practices implemented as part of organic agricultural systems. The project team will leverage new developments in low-cost electronics, internet-of-things connectivity, 3D printing and related technologies to build inexpensive automated water samplers and automated infiltrometers for producer use. The project will improve our understanding of the impacts of different organic conservation practices on water quality.