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Conservation Innovation Grants – Adaptation to Drought Awardees, FY 2013

Below is a list of the fiscal year 2013 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Adaptation to Drought awardees. The information includes the project location, the amount of funding, the project title and a brief description.

For more information on how the program works, please visit the CIG Program page.

A PDF copy of the 2013 Adaptation to Drought awardees is available (PDF, 33KB)

South Dakota State University (SD, NE) $713,019

Precision Techniques for Improved Drought Resilience

This project represents a unique opportunity to demonstrate the effects of drought resilience on grazing lands managed using innovative grazing strategies compared with traditional management in the central and northern Great Plains. In this region, loss of species diversity through grazing mismanagement has resulted in less productive plant communities and a loss in grazing land resilience to drought. Progressive ranchers, prepared for drought, have adopted grazing practices that have increased plant diversity (cool- and warm-season forage species) and yield while maintaining herd numbers. These factors have protected them from huge economic losses due to rising supplemental feed costs during drought and restocking costs after drought.  The objectives of this project are to (1) establish four grazing management demonstrations on South Dakota and Nebraska ranches where producers can observe and demonstrate the impacts of innovative grazing management practices on their land’s ability to recover from the drought of 2012 and imposed spring or summer drought through use of rainout shelters; (2) demonstrate the impacts of innovative grazing management practices on ranch economics and decision-making capacity; (3) improve grazing managers’ understanding of innovative grazing practices; (4) identify adoption barriers, particularly related to managers’ ability and knowledge, and operational constraints, as well as external barriers; and (5) develop educational tools that will help ranchers implement improved practices.


Texas AgriLife Research (TX) $232,552

Developing Irrigation Management Strategies under Drought Conditions in Texas

Periods of drought such as the historic drought of 2012 are common in Texas, where irrigated agriculture consumes more than 90% of the total water used. It is imperative to embrace technologies that optimize irrigation and conserve agricultural water such as irrigation guidelines based on historical weather station data that incorporate crop evapotranspiration for planning irrigation. The main purpose of this project is to develop agronomic and irrigation strategies to manage drought conditions in irrigated agriculture and grazed land. The specific objectives are (1) to develop irrigation guidelines for sugarcane, citrus, corn, cotton and corn, onions and watermelons, and pastures in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for full irrigation and limited water supplies and determine irrigation priorities for these crops according to profitability and water use efficiency; (2) develop an internet based computer program to adapt irrigation management according to drought conditions using the weather station network; (3) establish five field demonstrations on EQIP eligible producer farms to demonstrate water scheduling strategies using remote soil water sensors and internet based data and quantify water use, irrigation with poly-pipe, water application efficiency and net return per unit of water applied; and (4) organize field days, workshops and extension factsheets (English and Spanish) to divulge these technologies.

University of Florida Board of Trustees (FL, GA) $442,003

SmartIrrigation Apps for Drought Adaptation in Irrigation Scheduling

The focus of this project is on water conservation due to current and predicted water scarcity and drought in the Southeastern United States through better irrigation practices. This project will address adaptation to drought through improved irrigation water use efficiency by incorporating more spatially accurate rainfall data, an irrigation deficit index, and primed acclimation strategies into already developed smartphone/tablet SmartIrrigation apps for citrus, cotton, strawberry, and turfgrass production. The improved Smartirrigation apps, developed in coordination with the Southeast Climate Consortium, will be demonstrated by engaging producers and extension agents to use and evaluate them. The project will result in dissemination and greater adoption of easy to use, reliable, and easily accessible tools by producers in a region of the country where drought has been a persistent problem for the past decade resulting in a need for more efficient use of water resources. This will allow producers to make smarter, more sustainable decisions on using limited water supplies and potentially conserving water.

Colorado State University (CO) $882,924

Decision Support Tools and Innovative Soil and Water Management Strategies to Adapt Semi-arid Irrigated Cropping Systems to Drought

Effective use of irrigation water in semi-arid agricultural regions is increasingly critical due to groundwater decline, growing competition for a limited water supply, and increasing frequency of drought. The Central and Southern Great Plains face some of the most extreme risk for sustainability of future water supply and innovative cropping systems that increase resiliency to drought are a critical need in this region. Through key public and private partnerships, this project will demonstrate synergistic soil, crop, and water management practices that adapt irrigated cropping systems in the Central Great Plains to drought and improve water use efficiency. The project will also develop a farmer-friendly decision support tool that empowers producers to plan and evaluate water conserving practices into site and management specific approaches while considering the effects of drought and climate change. Activities include: (1) conduct field demonstrations of synergistic soil, crop, and irrigation management practices that conserve water and improve system adaptation to drought; (2) modify the COMET-Farm decision support tool to include drought intensity input and crop water productivity output; and (3) carry out comprehensive information and technology transfer through field days, fact sheets, a web site, and the development of a technical water management guide for NRCS.

Inter Tribal Buffalo Council (SD, WY, ND, MN, IA, KS, NE, OK, WI, AK, WA, OR, ID, MT, UT, CA, CO, NM, AZ) $639,735

Native Capacity Building to Address Effective Drought Management

The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council sees a need for the formation and implementation of drought-related strategic plans for Native American Reservations within its Membership Regions. As evidenced by a lack of planning, few communities are prepared to engage in the formation and implementation of a drought planning process because of lack of know-how. The purpose of this project is to enhance Tribal system resilience to drought by developing models using the Tribal Bison Programs that can be used to demonstrate various technology transfer means and methods for use by other Socially Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers and Indian Tribes. Specifically, an evaluation/assessment of the impacts of drought across member Tribes, their response to drought and the effectiveness of the responses will be used as the basis for regional trainings that will involve the adoption of the appropriate best management practices and associated technologies into each Tribe’s Bison Management Plan. On line databases will be created for the Tribes that include a resource library for drought management including links to entities that forecast drought, assistance for drought response, and technical data would enable the Tribes to adequately prepare system responses to drought. Regional trainings will be provided on the development and usage of the Tribal databases and drought management resource library. Implementation of conservation technologies, management, practices, systems, procedures, and approaches will also be supported. This could include alternative feeding systems, water and range enhancements and fodder systems.

The University of Tennessee (TN) $284,718

Deficit Irrigation of Row Crops Provides Drought Mitigation, Environmental Protection, and Optimized Yield in Humid Regions

In the Southeastern United States, irrigated agriculture has grown by 60% or 4.2 million acres over the last 20 years due to droughts and the need for row crop producers to insure high yield against the high cost of production. The rapid growth of irrigation in conjunction with population growth in the southeast has led to water conflicts during drought periods. Deficit irrigation of row crops is an effective way to mitigate drought in humid regions by applying less water to the majority of irrigated acres in the Southeastern US. The purpose of this project is to promote deficit irrigation for humid regions as a means to apply less water for drought mitigation, to optimize yield by better utilization of rainfall, and to improve the sustainability of row crop production. Deficit irrigation in humid regions means not supplying the crop with all the water it could use and not keeping the soil-water profile at field capacity, a condition known as full irrigation. Deficit irrigation makes use of rainfall while full irrigation does not. This is because in a full irrigation scenario, there is no or little storage capacity remaining in the soil and additional rainfall could saturate the soil, leach fertilizer, and/or run-off the soil surface. Five tasks will be undertaken to advance this goal: (1) finalize the strategy for deficit irrigation of cotton in variable water holding capacity soils; (2) start a deficit irrigation demonstration for soybeans similar to the cotton irrigation demonstration that tests three start times and three irrigation rates; (3) work with producers to implement deficit irrigation strategies; (4) calculate and compare indicators of environmental sustainability from data collected at the research station and on-farm sites; (5) extend project results via fact-sheets, websites, producer workshops/regional meetings, field days and on-farm demonstration sites.

Purdue University (IN) $165,353

Soil Quality: Using Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health and Moisture Retention

The purpose of this project is demonstrate to producers how innovative cropping systems (no-till systems which include cover crops in rotation) used on Midwest glacial till soils can increase resiliency to drought via improved soil health as a result of carbon retention. This effort will provide a better understanding of changes in health of soil using early predictions based on changes to the soil biology as impacted by selection of plant materials, planting strategy, and soil management for cover crops and can be utilized within a producer’s management plan to ultimately make positive changes in farm soil health. An approach will be developed for the prediction of soil health changes following the implementation of cover crop programs (an innovative approach to increase water retention and reduce nutrient loads to water and air.) Using producer field sites, the effects of cover crops on the availability of soil water will be documented through a two-year planting cycle. Changes in water holding capacity as a function of soil properties, cover crop management practices, soil biology and biochemistry will be demonstrated and quantified. Changes in soil biology and physical qualities will be used as early predictors of the critical changes in the systems and their importance demonstrated to producers. This project will provide fundamental knowledge that will be turned into educational programs leading to adaptive management practices that fully utilize combinations of plant types and management systems to achieve resource protection and soil revitalization.

Michigan State University (MI, MO, AZ) $465,949

Drought Reduction and Water Conservation by Increasing Water Retention in the Root Zone

Today, many irrigation water sources face decline and greater demands by competing municipal, industrial, and commercial interests that challenge adequate quantities of irrigation water required for sustaining plant production on local farms. Current droughts, increasing commodity prices, shortages of high producing agricultural lands, increasing nitrogen fertilizer costs, low interest rate loans combined with growing global food and energy demands, require new technologies that improve soil water holding capacities. This project will use new long-term technologies combined with improved water and nutrient prescription-based best management practices to convert marginal soils into sustainable crop production on lands where water requirements currently approach 10 to 20 acre inches during the growing season. The objectives are to (1) demonstrate and quantify improved soil water retention capacities following conversion by subsurface water retention technology (SWRT) water saving membranes; (2) demonstrate and quantify water use efficiency of drought tolerant and susceptible cultivars planted on sandy, sandy loam and sand outcroppings for all soil types improved by strategic installations of SWRT water saving membranes; (3) demonstrate and evaluate the efficiency and cost-benefit ratio by irrigation of crops growing on SWRT-converted permeable soils in arid regions with low rainfall and daily irrigation. As plant production increases more carbon will enhance the movement of clay particles to SWRT membrane surfaces increase water holding and nutrient retention capacities; and (4) expand and compare a GPS-driven Land Area Mapping and Membrane Processor informational and training unit.

The University of Vermont and State Agriculture College (VT) $88,429

Developing Drought Resilient Pasture Based Forage Strategies that Promote Productivity and Protection of Natural Resources

New England livestock farms that rely heavily on pasture based forage systems are having difficulty meeting the dry matter and nutrient needs of livestock during drought. In addition, all grazing farms place a value on top quality forages to reduce outside importation of feed to improve farm viability and environmental quality. The objectives of this project are to determine the feasibility and productivity of low cost inline pod irrigation systems and implementation of warm season annuals to alleviate or overcome drought stress with the goal of improving resiliency of New England pastures to drought conditions. The strategies and systems will be developed and tested by livestock farms both organic and conventional throughout the state of Vermont. Creating and implementing drought resilient pasture systems can provide an element of risk for the farmer. This project proposes to develop on-farm demonstration and outreach in the area of pasture irrigation and warm season summer annual evaluation. Evaluating these new systems through on farm demonstration, workshops and field days will help other farmers determine potential risk factors and derived benefits before implementing them on their farm.

The University of Tennessee (TN, AR, KY) $398,714

Coping with Drought in Beef Cattle Production: Long-term Innovation through Optimal Warm-season Forage Systems

Record droughts have occurred during the past several years that have made prevailing forage production paradigms unsustainable. Short-term drought response is important, but innovation in forage production systems is essential to ensure long-term sustainability and profitability. A fundamental problem is that the region of the United States centered on the project area (AR-KY-TN) is based primarily on cool-season perennial forages, which are normally challenged during summer months when they become semi-dormant. During drought periods, the problem becomes critical and is compounded when inappropriate forages with poor drought-tolerance are repeatedly established following successive drought cycles. The primary objective of this project is to deliver a comprehensive and transformative approach to forage production to growers across a multi-state region that will make a substantial impact on their ability to respond to droughts over the long-term. Side-by-side comparisons will be developed to demonstrate actual drought response, beef production, stocking rates, and economic outcomes based on field conditions over two summers. Because the region is dominated by cow-calf production systems, and reproductive performance is critical, heifers will be used in grazing demonstrations. Switchgrass, eastern gamagrass, big bluestem and indiangrass (in a blend), bermudagrass, and crabgrass will be included. Information from these demonstrations will be used to enhance the understanding of how these options fit into cow-calf, stocker, and grass-finishing operations in the fescue belt.

The Curators of the University of Missouri (MO) $267,783

Building Drought Resiliency through Improved Soil Health

ood soil health and structure are important factors in mitigating agricultural drought by increasing water infiltration and water availability to plants. Many cultural practices, including overgrazing, biomass removal, tillage, and lack of cover crops and crop diversity reduce soil health and quality. Loss of soil quality results in less water infiltration and subsequently more runoff and less available water for plants. Soil health and structure can be improved and maintained through the use of no-tillage, cover crops, surface residue incorporation, native plants, and increased biodiversity. The objective of this project is to enhance farmer understanding of the effects of management practices on soil health, available soil water capacity, and water infiltration. Presentations and demonstrations will facilitate farmer understanding of the effects of improved soil health on drought mitigation for agricultural crops and livestock. Innovative cropping or grazing systems that increase resiliency to drought via improved soil health will be demonstrated through field days, workshops, and clinics. The effect of producer management practices on soil health and soil water will be demonstrated through use of a web-based, interactive soil health database and through soil sample testing at field days that will quantify active carbon, soil aggregate stability, and microbial diversity.

Clemson University (SC) $367,879

Demonstration of Innovative Water Conservation Technologies to Enhance Resilience to Drought while Optimizing Farm Profits

Growers in the Southeastern United States are particularly vulnerable to drought due to a variety of factors. First, although annual rainfall in the Southeastern United States normally exceeds evaporation, it is often poorly distributed. Second, southeastern Coastal Plain soils have extremely low water holding capacity due to predominantly sandy texture with very low organic matter contents. Third, most sandy soils of the southeastern Coastal Plains have a compacted zone or hardpan, which limits root penetration below the plowing depth, reducing yields, and making plants more susceptible to drought stress. Therefore, even relatively short drought periods will have devastating effects on crop yields and farm profits. The overarching goal of this demonstration project is to assist row crop, fruit, and vegetable farmers to adopt innovative and proven water conservation technologies to enhance resilience to drought and increase farm profits. Several water conservation techniques that were either developed or tested at Clemson University over the last decade and that have shown significant increase in water use efficiency while enhancing resilience to drought and farm profits will be demonstrated. Specific project objectives and anticipated outcomes include: (1) establish six “Prototype Fields” per year to directly train growers to adopt innovative and proven water conservation technologies; (2) demonstrate and evaluate the effects of water conservation technologies on enhancing drought resilience and farm profits; and (3) implement an aggressive training program for crop consultants, technology providers, and county extension agents to become the primary providers of water conservation technologies for growers beyond the geographic and time limitations of this project.

Mississippi State University (MS) $400,153

Drought Mitigation for Beef Cattle Producers Using Native Grasses in Grazing Systems and as Alternative Feedstocks for Confined Feeding

The year 2012 was one of the hottest and driest in recorded history. The extreme drought led to many states experiencing poor to very poor pasture conditions in 90-99% of their grazing lands according to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center. As a nation, nearly 60% of pastures were in poor to very poor condition by the end of summer. Over 60% of hay acreage and over 70% of all cattle in the US were in drought affected areas. By the end of summer, over 50% of the corn crop in the nation was in poor to very poor condition and decreased corn supply increases feed costs for producers and ultimately results in higher retail prices for beef consumers. The broad scale goal of this project is to demonstrate the drought mitigating benefits of incorporating native grasses into grazing systems and confined feeding operations for beef cattle and to provide producers with real world information in a local context which is imperative for ultimate producer adoption of these practices. Warm season forages will be harvested during the summer months and stored until time for feeding during the winter when pasture growth is minimal. The feeding of baleage in a confined feeding system will be directly compared to animal performance when grazing a cool season native grass or using the traditional practice of grazing the cool season forage.  Cool season forages will be harvested during the early spring and stored until time for feeding during the summer. Feeding conserved forage in confinement will be assessed as an alternative to grazing drought stressed pastures during the summer months.