Tuesday, December 13, 2022

USDA funds 71 climate-related projects at less than $5 million, many of them to 'figure out what works,' Vilsack says

The Department of Agriculture has funded 71 more five-year "projects to develop climate-smart commodities and a money-making market for them," reports Chuck Abbott of Successful Farming. The $325 million is the second round of funding in its Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program, which now totals 141 projects and $3.1 billion, a USDA press release said.

The latest round of grants were for less than $5 million each, to focus on "small and under-served producers and work by minority-serving institutions to measure, monitor, report, and verify the results of climate-smart practices," Abbott reports. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "We believe that this program will allow us to figure out what works and, frankly, what doesn't work. . . . There are some amazing projects here." For a list of the first- and second-round projects, click here.

"Republicans in Congress say the White House exceeded its authority in creating such a large program on its own, and some critics in the scientific community say more detail is needed to judge the value of the projects," Abbott notes. Republicans don't like that the money comes from "a $30 billion reserve at USDA that also pays for crop subsidies," the Commodity Credit Corp. "Vilsack tripled the size of the program in September after USDA was deluged with proposals, all of which promised private-sector funding."

The 71 projects include agroforestry in New York, hemp in Tennessee, organic eggs in Ohio and Kentucky, specialty crops in California, cattle in Virginia and West Virginia, removing nuisance seaweed from Puget Sound for use as fertilizer, and cover crops for orchards in and near food deserts. There is also "a test of buffalo to mitigate global warming and to market buffalo meat as a climate-smart food," involving 79 tribes and 20,000 head of bison, Abbott reports. "They are the original climate regulator," said Troy Heinert of the InterTribal Buffalo Council. The grant's "funding ceiling," USDA says, is $4,950,000.

Vilsack announced the grants at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which will get a grant with a funding ceiling of $4,999,999 "to support small-scale and other under-served producers . . . transform their traditional production into a multi-pronged agroforestry-based climate-smart, sustainable production system," USDA says. Identical amounts were allocated to the University of Illinois, which will work with Tuskegee and other partners "to scale up robotic cover crop planting and verification of soil carbon" in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Iowa; University of Maryland Eastern Shore to "promote climate-smart cover crops as a feedstock" for anaerobic digesters that process chicken litter; Foodshed Inc. and other partners for "incentives to small and socially disadvantaged specialty crop farmers in San Diego County" in California; the University of Guam "to market climate-smart commodities and achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions in Pacific Island agriculture and forestry systems while improving affordable food and nutrition security of disadvantaged, at-risk, island communities;" and Whitaker Grain "to provide a market platform for rice growers producing premium rice that is certified sustainably grown" in Arkansas.

Getting an allocation of $2 less than those, The Nature Conservancy is in line for $4,999,997 to "grow a set of climate-adapted tree species resilient to the projected climate futures of Minnesota’s Midwest Broadleaf Forest." Other grants near the limit: $4,999,900 to the Coalition for Food Security "to implement climate-smart practices related to indoor hydroponic vertical farming;" the same amount to Regeneration International; the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance to support poultry producers who follow diversified regenerative climate-smart grain production methods" in the Midwest; the same to Working Landscapes and other North Carolina partners to promote climate-smart practices "among small and underserved producers, including tribal producers, principally by equipping food hubs to finance and advise on-farm climate-smart practice implementation and marketing to wholesale and direct-to-consumer channels;" $4,999,800 to Chico State University to launch a "food hub for climate-smart agriculture" in the northern Sacramento River valley; and the same to Western Landowners Alliance "to empower New Mexico Latino and under-served beef and pork producers and their trusted partners to collectively develop, implement, monitor, quantify and broker climate-smart livestock projects."

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