LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $26.6 million in 45 new, national projects to spur agricultural innovation in rural and urban communities. Three Arkansas projects are among those selected.
The funds are proved through the USDA's Conservation Innovation Grants in fiscal year 2016.
Nearly 25 percent of the funding will be used for projects to ensure historically underserved, military veteran, and new and beginning farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have equal access to USDA programs and services.
Nationally, the funding will leverage more than $32.5 million in matching funds from cash and in-kind sources from the grantees for a total of $59.1 million, more than doubling the federal investment. The 2016 projects focus on water quality, conservation finance and assistance to existing and potential historically underserved USDA customers. CIG, administered by Natural Resources Conservation Service, is funded through the popular Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Mike Sullivan, state conservationist for the NRCS in Arkansas, said the three Arkansas projects will receive a total of $720,984.
Arkansas’ projects are:
University of Arkansas ($79,529) — "proposes to coordinate and synthesize P (phosphorus) management nationally, harmonizing site assessment and nutrient management recommendations compliant with the 2010 NRCS 590 Standard, and promoting consistency among state recommendations. This project will work with regional efforts to calibrate and harmonize P Indices across the U. S. and demonstrate their accuracy in identifying the magnitude and extent of P loss risk and their utility to improving water quality. These regional efforts are Coastal Plain, Northeast, Heartland, and Southeast States. The overarching goal of this project is to improve the effectiveness of site risk assessment using P Indices compliant with the NRCS 590 Nutrient Management Standard across the nation."
Arkansas Land and Community Development Corporation ($350,000) — "will assign a trained staff member to serve as a field agent to NRCS district conservationists throughout a 42 county service area while at the same time serving as a mentor to historically underserved producers. This project proposes to increase the number of new EQIP applications for historically underserved producers in each of the four service area regions, increase awareness of new technology applicable to the operation, work one-on-one with producers to create farm management plans, increase the long-term profitability for participants through farm/ranch improvements, and increase collective knowledge of sustainable agriculture throughout the service area by conducting quarterly workshops and training seminars in each region."
National Audubon Society, Inc. ($291,445) — "The purpose of Audubon Arkansas’s Native Agriculture to Invigorate Ecosystems (NATIVE) Project is to help farmers innovatively adapt to climate change by assisting them with production of a climate change-resistant specialty crop that promotes on-farm biodiversity. Native warm season grasses and pollinator-friendly forbs are economical, environmentally sustainable, alternative cash-crops able to withstand drought and other severe weather events made worse by climate change. Audubon will build upon its expertise in conservation practices and experience with historically underserved producers in the Delta to enroll 100 acres in native grass and forb seed production using seed harvested from remnant prairies. With this technology transfer and acreage in full production, Audubon predicts that producers can harvest 10,000 pounds of seed annually for sale in commercial and consumer markets, while reaping soil, water, and wildlife benefits."
“This year’s national CIG competition resulted in diverse projects—from established focus areas such as water quality to cutting-edge areas such as conservation finance,” Sullivan said. “It is essential that USDA explore new technologies and approaches that will offer producers new ways to protect their natural resources as they seek out new revenue streams to keep their operations viable.”