WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2013 –From cover crops to bat conservation, USDA is looking for more innovative ways to protect natural resources and habitat.  And along the way, the dollars may help fulfill a piece of the Obama administration’s civil rights agenda.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of 33 Conservation Innovation Grants, totaling $13.3 million today.

“Grant recipients will demonstrate innovative approaches to improve soil health, conserve energy, manage nutrients and enhance wildlife habitat in balance with productive agricultural systems,” according to an agency release. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service administers this competitive grants program.

"Conservation Innovation Grants activate creativity and problem-solving to benefit conservation-minded farmers and ranchers," Vilsack said. "These grants are critical for developing and demonstrating new ideas for conservation on America's private lands and strengthening rural communities. Everyone relies on our nation's natural resources for food, fiber, and clean water and will benefit from these grants."

"The Conservation Innovation Grant program brings together the strength and innovation of the private and non-profit sectors, academia, producers, and others to develop and test cutting-edge conservation tools and technologies and work side-by-side with producers to demonstrate how solutions work on the land," NRCS Chief Jason Weller said.

Six of the approved grants aim to help underserved communities that have long been supporters of the Obama administration, but currently lack strong conservation or technical credentials.

For example,  the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation and Executive Director Calvin King, a perennial USDA grant winner, will receive another $453,570 grant to conduct “0utreach to Underserved Farmers and Landowners” in Arkansas on conservation practices.

King’s group provides training and service assistance on farm development, community education programs, land retention, program management, housing, rural and community development, according to a nonprofit filing with the Internal Revenue Service – but no mention of conservation. Their web site notes that a focus on integrated food and farming systems is "under construction."


The Women, Food and Agriculture Network, founded by “mother” Denise O’Brien, will receive $525,043. The project goal is to “improve soil health across seven states in the upper Midwest by increasing soil health literacy among area women farmland owners, and supporting them to improve soil health on the land they own and lease.”


O’Brien gained statewide name recognition in Vilsack’s home state of Iowa after a closely fought (she lost by 51 to 49 percent) race against Bill Northey in 2006 for Secretary of Agriculture - the seat he still holds. She also served as an agricultural advisor for the Obama administration in Afghanistan from 2011-2012.


But several of the other grants won high praise from several members of the conservation community, including:

    Pheasants Forever: A grant of $631,218 to explore and demonstrate ways to integrate pollinator habitat into bioenergy crop production systems;

    University of Tennessee: A grant of $634,107 to quantify and demonstrate the long-term impacts of cover crops, crop rotations and no-till farming systems on soil health and crop productivity;

    Conservation Technology Information Center: A grant of $482,000 to work with farmers in the Midwest to examine and share the economic, agronomic and environmental benefits of cover crops; and,

    National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: A grant of $821,324 to demonstrate and expand the use of manure injection technology in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which can significantly reduce nutrient losses from animal agriculture production systems.


A full list of recipients is available here.

The grants are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Grantees must work with producers and forestland owners to develop and demonstrate the new technologies and approaches.

At least 50 percent of the total cost of CIG projects must come from non-federal matching funds, including cash and in-kind contributions provided by the grant recipient.

For more on this grant program, visit USDA's Conservation Innovation Grants webpage or contact your local NRCS office.


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