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News Release

USDA awards Conservation Innovation Grants for three Massachusetts projects

Diane Petit, Public Affairs Officer

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG)

AMHERST, Mass. (July 31, 2020) –The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced nearly $174,000 in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) for three projects that will stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies to address water quality and quantity, air quality, energy conservation, and other natural resource issues.

CIG funds projects targeting innovative on-the-ground conservation, including pilot projects and field demonstrations, leveraging the federal investment in environmental enhancement and protection in conjunction with agricultural production. NRCS administers CIG as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Grants are awarded to state and local governments, federally recognized Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations and individuals. Grant recipients provide 50 percent of all project costs.

“These Conservation Innovation Grants will help spur creativity and problem-solving in the Commonwealth’s farms and water resources,” said Dan Wright, Massachusetts State Conservationist for NRCS. “Across the nation, CIG grants allow the best minds in America to develop unique and innovative solutions that will help make conservation more efficient in the future.”

The following Massachusetts projects were selected for 2020 CIG grants:

American Farmland Trust: Enhancing Nutrient Management on Southern New England Dairy & Vegetable Farms – By leveraging data from American Farmland Trust’s (AFT) on-farm soil health demonstration network, AFT will stimulate the adoption of cover crops and other soil health practices by women farmers through the sharing of short-term soil, economic, and social changes. Many women are farm principal operators or decision-makers. Examples will be shared during three Soil Health Learning Circles aimed at improving access to resources and enabling stewardship and farmland protection. Profiles of women farmers from across Massachusetts will be produced, capturing stories of newly gained conservation knowledge or successful implementation of soil health practices. AFT will also hold several soil-health demonstration field days highlighting on-farm soil health trials, and the use of equipment such as a roller crimper, no-till seed drill, and a no-till vegetable transplanter.

Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association: Improving Cranberry Fruit Quality by Understanding the Microclimate of the Bog – The Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association (CCCGA) will obtain bog level microclimatic data from CIG-funded weather stations placed in cranberry bogs in southeastern Massachusetts. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the UMass Cranberry Station in Wareham will evaluate the microclimates’ role in fruit rot, quality and yield; with an objective of developing easy-to-adopt, canopy management cultural practices that could improve fruit quality while reducing fertilizer inputs, protecting water quality. Cooperating cranberry growers will provide access to their weather stations, bogs, fruit and growing practices over the course of the study. CCCGA will oversee the project, will be the primary interface for the grower collaborators and will facilitate educational outreach and communication efforts to the grower community.

Davidian’s Farm Market, LLC: Maintaining Soil Health by integrating Cover Crops & Reduced Tillage using a New Plastic Mulching Technology in Shaped-Bed Vegetable Production – This project will integrate cover crops and reduced tillage into Davidian’s Farm Market’s conventional shaped-bed vegetable production in order to improve soil health, while reducing emissions and inputs. The proposed trial is for a cropping system that uses a plastic mulch for vegetable crops on a shaped bed, with an overwintering clover cover crop between the vegetable rows throughout the whole year. This cropping system will be compared to a conventionally tilled and shaped-bed system that uses weed mats instead of cover crops between rows. It will compare soil health metrics, as well as fuel, water, fertilizer and herbicide use, weed suppression, and vegetable yields, between the production systems. The results of the project will be shared through workshops and conferences in collaboration with NRCS and the Worcester County Conservation District.

NRCS is a federal agency that works hand-in-hand with the people of Massachusetts to improve and protect soil, water and other natural resources. The agency has offices in USDA Service Centers in Greenfield, Hadley, Holden, Pittsfield, Westford, Wareham and West Yarmouth, which work with local conservation districts and other partners to serve farmers and landowners in their area.