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conservation innovation grants

Roundtable Isn't Your Typical CIG Project

This isn’t your typical Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project. There’s no university collecting and analyzing data, or ground-breaking technology being evaluated here.

Nope. This one is a good, old-fashioned meeting.

Why would a meeting be such an important CIG project? Because strategic stakeholders from all over the world come together to deliberate on obstacles, challenges, and generate solutions to increase the amount of private capital, institutional investments, and other sources of non-Federal funding dedicated to natural resource conservation on both public and private lands.

Innovative Program Promotes Rotational Grazing in Chesapeake Bay Area

“Who better to share the benefits of intensive rotational grazing than farmers who are actually doing it on their lands?” asked Beth L. McGee, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Water Quality Scientist.

Intensive grazing systems, a type of rotational grazing that uses higher per acre stocking rates in smaller grazing or pasture units, can provide multiple benefits for farmers and the environment. These systems can help maintain and enhance farm profitability while reducing labor and input costs. Compared to more traditional confinement operations, intensive grazing can result in improved soil health, an increase in sequestered carbon and decreased emissions of other greenhouse gases.

Innovation in Conservation - A New Slate of NRCS Environmental Markets Projects

Environmental markets—the buying and selling of ecosystem services like clean air and water, and wildlife habitat—help more private landowners get conservation on the ground. Markets attract non-Federal funding to conservation, complement USDA’s work with agricultural producers, and can yield natural resource improvement at a lower cost to other approaches.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a Federal leader in supporting the development of environmental markets, largely through its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. Among CIG recipients are one of the earliest and most successful water quality trading programs in Ohio’s Great Miami River watershed and the Ohio River Basin water quality trading program, a recipient of the U.S. Water Prize this year. Also through CIG, USDA hosted an event in November 2014 celebrating a first-of-its-kind transaction—the purchase by Chevrolet of carbon credits generated on ranch lands in North Dakota.

An Update on the EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets

This week, I have the privilege of participating in the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska.  More than 200 attendees from agriculture, utilities, industry, state agencies, and research institutions gathered at the University of Nebraska’s aptly named “Innovation Center” to think critically about how we can improve and expand water quality markets across the country.

As Secretary Vilsack noted in his introductory video remarks, water quality markets can be effective tools in helping communities improve the quality of their water at lower cost.  Markets create financial incentives for private landowners to manage their lands more sustainably to produce cleaner water while generating environmental benefits at lower cost.  They promote public awareness of the role sustainable private land management can play in protecting public health and natural ecosystems. They inject private dollars and innovation into efforts to improve water quality – leveraging finite federal funding.

USDA-EPA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets September 15-17

For most people, water quality markets are probably a new concept. They are not something you hear about on the news every day, even though reports frequently cover the need to clean up rivers and lakes. But to some—like states, utilities, and farmers—they represent an opportunity, and should be on the radar.

Water quality markets can reduce costs of cleaning up waterways by allowing sources with high costs of meeting water quality requirements to purchase credits from sources that have lower costs of making the same water quality improvement. Agricultural producers often have lower costs of improving water quality, which makes farmers and ranchers prime candidates to supply water quality credits.

Water Quality Trading Program Awarded For Innovation

When USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in 2009, the notion of administering the nation’s largest water quality trading program in the Ohio River Basin was a twinkle in the eye of EPRI scientist Jessica Fox.

Fast forward to 2015—the multi-state water-trading program is a reality, and the Institute was one of three entities to be awarded this year’s Water Prize by the U.S. Water Alliance.

USDA Leaders Participate in Ecosystem Services Conference - Discuss New Markets for Producers

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller was one of several government leaders to present last week at the A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES) Conference to discuss how USDA incorporates ecosystem services and market-based approaches into its conservation mission.

Every two years, leaders in the study and practice of ecosystem services and environmental markets meet at a large conference. The conference, held in Arlington, Virginia this year, aims to link science, practice and sustainable decision-making by bringing together stakeholders from across the nation and world.

Secretary's Column: Investing in Conservation Innovation

Earlier this week, USDA announced $15.7 million in Conservation Innovation Grants to 47 organizations that will help develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to help farmers and ranchers continue to improve conservation practices on their operations.

More than half of this year’s awardees focus on preserving and improving soil health, which leads to improved water quality, increased soil water availability, enhanced resilience and nutrient cycling, captured carbon, among many other vital natural resource needs.

Cover Crops and Soil Health Awareness Gaining Popularity in South Carolina

Nearly 100 farmers recently gathered in Dillon County, S.C. to see why some farmers are raving about the benefits of cover crops. A few groups hosted a field day to illustrate first-year findings resulting from demonstrations made possible through a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded the three-year grant to the soil and water conservation districts in Richland, Dillon and Marlboro counties and the Earth Sciences and Resources Institute at the University of South Carolina (USC).

The project involves five farmers in three counties across South Carolina who agreed to plant multispecies cover crops each fall, vary the amount of nitrogen they apply each spring and record their cash crop yields.

Secretary's Column: Taking New Steps to Care for the Land and Water

Natural resource conservation is paramount to the ongoing strength of our nation. Healthy soil contributes to agricultural productivity. Healthy forests clean our water and air. Vibrant waterways are critical for our health, for transportation and for trade. Investments into conservation spur job growth and community development, particularly in rural areas.

This is an uncertain time for USDA conservation activities. Congress has not yet passed a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that would continue to invest in conservation efforts, while providing rural America with certainty regarding many other important programs.

As we continue urging Congress to provide a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, USDA this week took several new steps to strengthen conservation across the country.