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USDA pumps $26.6 million into 45 water quality and conservation projects


Sometimes it just takes a little financial nudge to get the ball rolling. The USDA recently announced the investment of $26.6 million into 45 projects that will spur innovative water quality and conservation initiatives on both rural and urban farm across the country. With matching contributions from public and private partners, the total pot comes to $59 million.

While the 2016 focus is on water quality and conservation finance and assistance, approximately 25 percent of the funding will go to projects that will benefit historically underserved producers, military veterans, and beginning farmers.

The investment is made through the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which supports innovation in conservation tools and strategies to improve areas such as on-farm energy and fertilizer use as well as market-based strategies to improve water quality or mitigate climate change.

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program is a highly competitive conservation grant program that helps put the very best conservation tools to work on privately held farms and forests, for maximum environmental impact,” said USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “This investment will offer farmers, ranchers and forest landowners new ways to protect their natural resources and new revenue streams to keep their operations viable, building on the record amount of conservation work that has already been done under this Administration. Demand for this type of support outpaces what USDA can provide alone, but outside partners are willing to make additional investments because they see the good it can do for the environment and for their communities.”

For this round of funding, USDA received 170 applications requesting more than $100 million, which far exceeded the initial funding target of approximately $20 million. The $26.6 million investment will leverage an additional $32.5 million in matching investments from the grantees, more than doubling the federal investment.

Here are a few highlights from the 45 projects listed. A full listing of this fiscal year’s selected projects is available on the USDA CIG page.

Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Inc., ($462,794)-proposes to establish several conservation investment mechanisms to help overcome barriers associated with participating in three existing mitigation banking programs in Maryland and Virginia.

National Corn Growers Association, ($1 million)-proposes to develop a greenhouse gas insetting framework that can serve as a model for corporations and other entities to encourage conservation adoption and achieve greenhouse gas reductions and water quality benefits (Missouri).

Tennessee State University, ($792,504)-This 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant university proposes to enhance the current Southern Nursery Industry “Guide for Best Management Practices,” while recommending modifications to the USDA NRCS Conservation Practice Standards that specifically address natural resource and water-quality concerns relating to the nursery industry (Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia).

Resource Conservation District of Monterey County, ($1,300,695)-proposes to establish a cooperative model for pooling resources to comply with water quality regulations, making conservation practices more widely applicable in high-value, irrigated agricultural lands, leading to a streamlined approach to compliance with water quality regulation in California and the development of a decision support tool to aid new cooperatives in identifying and implementing coordinated water quality improvement strategies.

City of Chicago, ($1 million)-proposes to create an urban farming system or cohort-based model to assist farmers with a high potential to succeed in establishing businesses and prepare and place more land into land trusts or cooperative tenure arrangements. The project will expand upon and begin to measure impacts of farm site developments that balance environmental remediation, stormwater management and water conservation (Illinois).

University of Hawaii, ($979,927)-proposes to develop an approach to optimize irrigation scheduling in intensive vegetable production systems across diverse climatic zones in the Pacific Islands (Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa).

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