The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides producers and landowners with financial assistance through Farm Bill programs to help install conservation practices on their land. Most if not all farmers already know that.
But there's another facet of on-farm funding, points out Denise Coleman, Pennsylvania State Conservationist for NRCS. "Additionally, we award competitive grants to nongovernmental organizations or individuals through USDA's Conservation Innovation Grants program."
CIG is a voluntary program that enables NRCS to work with other public and private entities to accelerate technology development and transfer. It helps speed adoption of promising technologies and approaches to address some of the nation's most pressing natural resource concerns. It benefits agricultural producers by providing more options for environmental enhancement and regulatory compliance.
Innovative on-the-ground conservation projects eligible for funding include pilot projects and field demonstrations. Since the program started, Pennsylvania NRCS has awarded over $1 million in CIGs to address soil, air, water and energy conservation issues.
Three farm examples
•A CIG recipient was able to install a woody biomass heating system in his Adams County greenhouses to replace a coal heating system. As a result, he has been able to produce energy at a lower cost and reduce air emissions.
•A Mifflin County farmer demonstrated the use of a commercial animal waste additive that proved effective in reducing swine manure odor.
•In Perry County, a farmer implemented a system to filter on-farm produced canola and sunflower oil that he uses to fuel farm equipment and heat his house and farm buildings.
Other past projects include use of legume and brassica cover crops for conservation and fertilization of crops; an on-farm carbon measuring laboratory to aid in carbon trading; adoption of ecologically based integrated pest management for apple orchards; and a project that identified methods for mitigating and measuring manure gas risks associated with gypsum bedding at dairy farms.
In September, Pennsylvania NRCS awarded grants for six projects, totaling over $300,000. Those projects will demonstrate:
•Use of integrated pest management practices in high tunnels
•Vertical farming techniques for urban farming
•Conservation practices for small-scale producers
•Training for Hispanics and other minorities on crop production
•Protecting bees during winter
•Improving soil health with grazing and no-till
•To learn more about CIG and other NRCS programs and services, visit www.pa.nrcs.usda.gov, or your local USDA Service Center.