Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of $5.3 million in Conservation Innovation Grants to develop approaches and technology that will help producers adapt to extreme climate changes that cause drought. These grants will fund projects benefiting several states that were significantly impacted by last year's drought. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today's announcement is one part of the department's efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
"USDA is working diligently to help American farmers and ranchers rebound from last year's drought and prepare for future times of climatic extremes," Vilsack said. "Conservation Innovation Grants are an excellent way to invest in new technology and approaches that will help our farmers, ranchers and rural communities be more resilient in the future."
The grants will address drought-related issues, such as grazing management, warm season forage systems, irrigation strategies and innovative cropping systems.
Recipients plan to evaluate innovative, field-based conservation technologies and approaches, leading to improvements like enhancing soil's ability to hold water, evaluating irrigation water use and installing grazing systems that are more tolerant to drought.
Examples of projects include:
South Dakota State University: Received $713,000 to establish four grazing management demonstrations on South Dakota and Nebraska ranches. Producers can observe and demonstrate the impacts of innovative grazing management practices on their land's ability to recover from the 2012 and future droughts through the use of rainout shelters.
Texas AgriLife Research: Received $233,000 to develop guidelines for managing irrigation under drought conditions and computer programs for linking weather stations with irrigation scheduling.
University of Florida Board of Trustees: Received $442,000 to address adaptation to drought by demonstrating and evaluating innovative approaches for improving irrigation water use efficiency of agricultural crops under drought conditions.
Colorado State University: Received $883, 000 to demonstrate synergistic soil, crop and water management practices that adapt irrigated cropping systems in the central Great Plains to drought and lead to efficient use of water. An existing model will be modified to allow farmers to calculate water savings from different conservation practices.
Intertribal Buffalo Council: Received $640,000 to evaluate how traditional/historical practices aided tribes in dealing with drought, developing a best practices database, and using that information for training and demonstration projects. This grant will support 57 tribes in 19 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.)
NRCS has offered this grant program since 2004, investing in ways to demonstrate and transfer efficient and environmentally friendly farming and ranching practices. This specific announcement of program funding was in response to last year's historic drought.
Conservation Innovation Grants projects are funded by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and awarded through a competitive grants process. At least 50 percent of the total cost of projects must come from non-federal matching funds, including cash and in-kind contributions provided by the grant recipient.