Two programs in the state focusing on soil health have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The conservation grants are part of a $15 million nationwide initiative that includes Purdue University and the National Corn Growers Association. Purdue University $252,978

Documenting Soil Health Assessment Methods and Jump Starting Carbon and Nutrient Cycles for the Sustainable Restoration of Soil Health

A comparative soil health assessment approach is needed to document the ability of current and proposed soil health test methods to differentiate known healthy soils from “less healthy” soils. A comprehensive evaluation of soil health assessment methods will be made on soil samples collected from fields with a long history of soil and crop management practices that improve soil health (e.g. no-till/never till systems with cover crops) to the same soils collected from fields in close proximity to the healthy soil location, but under more traditional soil and crop management systems (e.g. rotational tillage without cover crops). The high-carbon amendments targeted by the proposed field demonstration project have been previously proven to have positive effects at smaller scales; this project will demonstrate the positive impacts of these amendment applications at an agriculturally relevant scale. Differences in soil health will be quantified by measuring soil physical, chemical, biological properties, soil microbial community structure as well as the Solvita and Haney soil tests. A management protocol that farmers can use to conduct large scale in situ soil rehabilitation on mined lands and other areas where surface soils have been dramatically altered will be developed.

National Corn Growers Association(IA, IL, IN, MN, NE, OH, WI) $998,000

Economic and Environmental Benefits of Helping Crop Producers Focus on Soil Health

Agriculture currently comprises 55 percent of habitable land and 66 percent of annual fresh water usage and per capita land and water availability will decrease with increased population growth. Decreases in access to arable land place additional emphasis on the need for improved cropping system efficiency while improving environmental resources such as soil health and water quality. In the U.S., the major crop production regions facing the greatest challenges include the Mississippi River Basin, the Great Lakes Basin and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This project will address the need for improved soil health and water quality by developing recommendations to farmers on a variety of soil management practices aimed at improving productivity, profitability and environmental outcomes; increasing adoption of those recommendations beyond the network of demonstration farms; increasing the visibility and importance of sound soil management and agricultural sustainability to crop producers and the general public and quantifying the economic impacts (to individual crop producers and in aggregate) of adopting various practices intended to improve soil health.

September 16, 2014

News Release

MOLINE, Ill., Sept. 15, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today the award

of $15.7 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) to 47 organizations that will help develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. The Secretary made the announcement while visiting a farm in Illinois.

“These grants promote creativity and problem-solving efforts that benefit farmers and ranchers and protect our natural resources,” Vilsack said. “They're critical in sparking new ideas and techniques for conservation on America’s private lands and improving the environment.”

The grants announced today are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Grantees must work with producers and forestland owners to develop and demonstrate the new technologies and approaches. At least 50 percent of the total cost of CIG projects must come from non-federal matching funds, including cash and in-kind contributions provided by the grant recipient.

Vilsack made the announcement while visiting a corn and soybean farm owned by David and Tamara Erickson and their sons, Nicholas and Bradley. The Ericksons have a five-year Conservation Stewardship Program contract with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and have also received technical assistance from NRCS. The Secretary saw soil conservation practices including “no till” and grassed waterways to reduce runoff. He viewed soil cores which demonstrate the benefits of efforts to improve soil health.

The National Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Conservation Districts, both involved with conservation activities in Illinois, are receiving grant awards to demonstrate the use of best management practices such as conservation tillage, cover crops and advanced nutrient management to address soil health concerns. Almost half of the grants announced today support the agency’s priority of getting more conservation on the ground by improving the health of our nation’s soils. The National Corn Growers Association will receive almost $1 million to promote soil management practices aimed at improving productivity, profitability and environmental outcomes in seven states. The National Association of Conservation Districts will receive $750,000 to fund a project to significantly increase the number of farmed acres nationwide (including Illinois) that are successfully managed for soil health.

Other organizations, tribes and academic institutions will receive funding for conservation projects. For example, the University of California will receive almost $229,000 for the second phase of a project to support using native bees to supplement crop pollination. Montana State University will receive $50,000 to study ways to improve sage grouse chick and brood survival. The University of Missouri will receive almost $368,000 to work on an energy recovery system that field tests show could reduce energy consumption in poultry houses by 40-50 percent.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will receive almost $382,000 to continue to develop procedures to improve soil health and increase the acreage being managed with conservation tillage practices. In Arizona, the Navajo Nation will receive over $28,000 for mule deer conservation efforts, and the First Nations Development Institute will receive almost $69,000 to develop a conservation planning process, led by Navajo livestock producers on the Navajo Reservation.

Seven of the approved grants support conservation technologies and approaches to help farmers and ranchers who historically have not had equal access to agricultural programs because of race or ethnicity, or who have limited resources, or who are beginning farmers and ranchers.

A full list of recipients is available here:

Entities in the following States were selected for awards: Ala., Alaska, Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Fla., Ga., Hawaii, Idaho, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., La., Minn., Miss., Mont., Mo., N.C., N.D., Neb., N.Y., Ohio, Okla., Ore., Penn., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Utah, Va., Vt., W.Va., Wash., Wis., and also the District of Columbia.

Soil health is the foundation and future of sustainable agriculture, enabling producers to fare better against drought and other climatic extremes while increasing production. They have greater water holding capacity, increase water infiltration, reduce soil erosion, decrease soil compaction, improve crop productivity, and improve our natural resource condition.

NRCS has offered this grant program since 2004, investing in ways to demonstrate and transfer efficient and environmentally friendly farming and ranching. In the past years, the grants have helped develop trading markets for water quality and ha

Story Continues Below