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conservation innovation grants program

Bee Better Certification Program is Buzzing on U.S. Farms, Local Grocers

Bees are a lifeline for farms producing the world’s fruits, vegetables, nuts and other nutrient-rich foods. Bees pollinate billions of dollars’ worth of crops and play an essential role in our food supply. Pollinators are responsible for one in every three bites of food we eat and contribute more than $15 billion to our nation's crop values each year.

Spurring Agricultural Innovation Across the Nation

“He would often dream up new ideas and inventions that he would build in his shop and implement on his farm. Most all of them worked better than anything else available. He never faced a hill that he didn’t think could be flattened with a lot of hard work and determination, and he taught those around him to question the conventional wisdom and not be afraid to boldly seek new ways of doing things.” -from Leroy Isbell’s obituary in the Stuttgart Daily Leader, 2014

Chris Isbell didn't set out to make history. He was just following in his father's footsteps.

Growing Farmers

Fresh. Local. Honest. This motto underscores the guiding philosophy of the Minnesota Food Association (MFA). To achieve its goals of promoting healthy food and regenerative agriculture, the MFA offers workshops for farmers and helps immigrants learn how to farm sustainably in local conditions.

The MFA manages Big River Farms, a 150-acre certified-organic teaching farm. Farmers can enroll in a three-year training program, during which they’re taught about local soils and growing conditions, trained in organic certification and farming methods, and provided a large plot of land to manage. Many of the farmers are immigrants and refugees.

“I thought America was all cities and buildings. I didn’t picture the farmland,” said Suraj Budathoki, a Bhutanese refugee from Nepal. He is a recent graduate of Big River Farms.

The Sun Shines on an Illinois Farm as Secretary Vilsack Highlights Conservation Efforts

Our trip to the Erickson farm in Milan, Illinois involved a three hour drive through pouring rain. But once we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun made a partial appearance. Because we had about 40 partners, guests, and several media reps invited, I called it divine intervention.

Secretary Vilsack was here to announce the national Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) awardees, using a multi-generation Illinois farm as a fitting and picturesque backdrop. The family took the Secretary on a short driving tour to show all they've done to protect their 100 year-old farm.

Innovative Farmer Works with NRCS to Save Energy and Water

Like other farmers in the West, Roger Barton must irrigate the alfalfa hay he raises for horse owners. And like many farmers, Barton has to be creative to make ends meet. He has an off-farm job to support his family and is always trying to think of ways to keep his farm costs down.

When diesel costs rose to $4.25 per gallon a couple of years ago, Barton came up with a new, non-diesel-powered way to power his center pivot irrigation system, which creates those crop circles you may have noticed when flying over rural America. (The center pivot also saves lots of water by spreading just the right amount evenly over the land.)

Bringing Back the Bees

A recently awarded USDA Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) will fund research into bee-friendly seed mixes.

A partnership made up of the Xerces Society, University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Wisconsin is working to develop and test seed mixes that will provide the best habitat for native bees. CIG-funded projects use innovative technologies and approaches to address natural resources issues.

This Local Food is for the Birds

With an increased demand for locally grown food, many farmers are finding new markets for their products that are closer to home. But what some New Jersey farmers are doing to expand their market base is strictly for the birds!

The Cow Jumped into the Weeds and the Farmer Ran Away with the Profit

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded the University of Vermont (UVM) a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) in late 2010 that will help producers improve and reclaim marginal pasture and increase profits.

For many of Vermont’s beginning and experienced livestock farmers, having access to established pastures for grazing is one of the greatest limitations for production. Often land is infested with weeds, without enough forage to support a successful livestock operation.  Producers most commonly control weeds with intensive grazing, mowing, or costly herbicides.