Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the handful of funding recipients for USDA’s Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities Program he announced Tuesday should provide a framework for a broader rollout in two weeks.

Speaking at the Farm Progress Show, Vilsack highlighted three particular projects set to receive funding: a University of Missouri project focused on implementing and incentivizing climate-smart practices on crop and livestock operations in the state; a South Dakota State University application aimed at bolstering beef and bison climate-smart meat markets in the state; and an Iowa Soybean partnership to drive more participation in certain production practices throughout the Midwest.

“Producers in this program are going to receive outcome-based payments for implementation of practices such as no- and low-till, cover crops, nutrient management, diverse crop rotations, et cetera,” Vilsack said. The project will, he added, “directly connect producers to immense marketing opportunities presented by corporations” preparing to pay a premium for climate-smart commodities.

The three projects are a selection of the applications USDA received for the program earlier this year. Applications were divided into two rounds; those requesting between $5 million and $100 million and another for those looking for between $250,000 and $5 million. All told, applicants submitted more than $20 billion in requests, leaving USDA with the task of deciding how to reward around $1 billion in available funding, just 5% of the total request.

Vilsack said the other projects to receive funding will be announced in two weeks, but will reflect the sample he rolled out Tuesday.

“We just wanted to give you a flavor of the nature and extent of programs,” Vilsack told reporters after his remarks. “We’ve got programs that are very state-specific, we’ve got programs that are very commodity-specific, then we have the Iowa Soybean Association program, which is massive in terms of scope.”

Vilsack stopped short of declaring the amount of funding each of the projects would receive. Negotiations will take place to determine exact amounts, something Vilsack said is “still in the process.”

Adam Kiel, executive vice president of Ag Outcomes, the Iowa Soybean subsidiary behind the group’s application, told Agri-Pulse he was not aware of what the final funding level for the project would ultimately be. But he said the application, which seeks to expand on Iowa’s existing Soil and Water Outcomes Fund, was submitted for the maximum $100 million amount.

“It would be great to be fully funded, but that’s not an expectation that we would have knowing how much interest there was in the program,” he said in an interview. “We’re kind of going into it expecting to get a little bit of a haircut, if you will.” 

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Kiel noted the amount of funding the project receives will determine the number of acres he’ll be able to work with in the 12 states participating in the program: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Officials with the University of Missouri and South Dakota State University did not immediately respond to requests for information about the size of their applications.

The funding, Vilsack underscored, was part of a voluntary, incentive-based structure he feels is superior to the top-down approach being used in Europe. He said the projects announced Tuesday, and the broader portfolio to be unveiled in September, will represent USDA’s work to help farmers address climate concerns in their production practices.

“That is representative in terms of what you’re going to see in September; you’re going to see very specific, smaller projects, you’re going to see very, very large projects,” he added. “You’re going to see them all over the country, you’re going to see a significant resource dedicated to this, and you’re going to see American agriculture step up and lead internationally.”

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