The Agriculture Department is putting $75 million into 15 conservation projects around the country that have funding from private organizations or state governments and are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide other environmental benefits.

The recipients of USDA funding will include a Soil and Water Outcomes program in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri that will build on a program launched in Iowa to sequester carbon and protect water quality.

The money from USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program will be used to pay growers for verified water quality outcomes, while funding from Nutrien Ag Solutions and PepsiCo will reward farmers for verified reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The Illinois Soybean Association is the project’s lead partner.

In South Dakota, the American Coalition for Ethanol will work with USDA to promote no-till, cover crops, and nutrient management in an area that supplies a farmer-owned ethanol plant.

Based on calculating carbon credit prices in California, ACE CEO Brian Jennings told Agri-Pulse farmers could potentially get a 40-cent-per-bushel premium for their corn sold to Dakota Ethanol. Jennings said the organization has proposed to run the project for three years but is still negotiating the agreement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

The 15 projects are being funded through an "alternative funding arrangements" provision in which the lead project partners are responsible for contracting directly with eligible producers to implement conservation practices. 

NRCS prioritized projects that “supported smart strategies on working lands to help sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” according to a press release.

“By combining local expertise, partner resources, federal assistance and a shared commitment to conservation we can advance critical priorities and innovative solutions that are key to addressing the climate crisis,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby.

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A Great Plains Grasslands Conservation project in South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Montana and Nebraska sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will help producers implement grassland restoration and prescribed grazing systems on more than 1 million acres. Some 350,000 acres of grasslands are to be enrolled in easements. The project's partners are expected to estimate the project’s carbon benefits.

In the East, a project with the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities will pay for reforesting abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

In California, a project sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is expected to improve conditions for threatened coho salmon in the Shasta River, a tributary to the Klamath River.

RCPP is funded at $300 million a year under the 2018 farm bill. The program would get a massive infusion of additional funding — $7.5 billion — under a portion of the budget reconciliation bill that Democrats are trying to pass.

Ben Nuelle contributed to this report. 

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