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2005 Conservation Innovation Grants


Below is a list of the fiscal year 2005 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) National component awardees.  The information includes the State(s) in which the project will be carried out, the total amount of NRCS funding provided, the project title, and a project summary.


Multi-State Awards


Heifer International (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee)


Hands-on Training and Mentoring in Management Intensive Prescribed Grazing for Limited Resource Farmers

Management Intensive Prescribed Grazing (MIPG) is a well documented yet still innovative approach to managing resource problems such as overgrazing and erosion.  Prescribed grazing involves managing the controlled harvest of vegetation with grazing animals and planning for the subsequent regrowth and its utilization, according to producer objectives.   Many producers have yet to adopt this practice because it is a complex way of managing the whole farm system and requires a significant investment in planning and monitoring of the farm.  Given the challenges of implementing MIPG, limited resource farmers in particular resist adoption.  With their restricted resources of time and money, these producers must see that conservation practices have an economic benefit before they can justify implementation.  The purpose of this project is to develop and pilot an innovative, comprehensive training program to help limited resource farmers understand and implement MIPG Practices.


National Center for Appropriate Technology (Arizona, California, Georgia)


Sustainable American Cotton Project: Pesticide Reduction Innovations

Cotton fields are generally sprayed with a diverse group of insecticides.  Impacts on nontarget organisms, as well as soil, air, and water resources, can be significant.  Pesticide expenses also represent a significant cost to cotton producers.  The purpose of this project is to demonstrate and evaluate the efficacy of installing beneficial insect habitat plantings in and adjacent to cotton fields.  Results from initial testing indicate that beneficial plantings, not commonly used by producers, can reduce pesticide applications by over 60%. 


Foundation for Agronomic Research, Inc. (Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, New York)


Development and Implementation of Fertilizer BMP Guides for Six Selected Major Cropping Systems

Practices included in producers’ nutrient management plans should be based on the best science and technology available.  Currently, official nutrient management recommendations for many crops have not been updated for many years and do not adequately incorporate the latest science and technology available for site-specific management.  Fertilizer management recommendations need to be updated to reflect new technology and recent university research, and there also is a need for better coordination of recommendations among neighboring states.  The purpose of this project is to develop an up-to-date set of science based, well-documented Fertilizer Best Management Practice (BMP) Guides for each of six major cropping systems in order to guide nutrient management planning required for conservation programs (EQIP, CSP, TSP, etc.).  A variety of education and outreach programs will also be developed and presented to encourage implementation of the practices in these BMP Guides by producers, their advisers and input suppliers, NRCS, and Extension staff.


Clemson University (Arkansas, South Carolina)


Demonstration of Site-Specific Nematicide Placement in Cotton for Water Quality Enhancement, Higher Lint Yields, and Increased Farm Profits

Cotton is the most important agronomic crop in the southern U.S. with an estimated production value of $6 billion.  The U.S. cotton industry lost an estimated $300 million to nematodes in 2003, and yield losses in individual fields may reach 50 percent.  To combat these losses, producers often apply nematicides at a uniform rate across an entire field or farm.  Nematodes are not, however, uniformly distributed within fields and applying a nematicide at one rate over an entire field can be both costly and environmentally damaging.  Site-specific nematode placement (SNP) is an innovative technology that can minimize the effect of production practices on the environment while optimizing farm profits.  This technology matches field variability of nematode distribution with an appropriate variable-rate nematicide application, differentially applying chemical to match the needs of individual management zones within a field.  SNP technology can lead to substantial reduction in chemical use and their adverse impact on ground and surface water quality while increasing yields by applying nematicides only where damaging levels of nematodes occur.   The purpose of this project is to engage producers in the demonstration and evaluation of SNP on suitable farms in South Carolina and Arkansas.


Washington State University (Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Washington)


Development and Integration of a National Feed Management Education Program and Assessment Tools into a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP)

According to the EPA’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) rule released in 2003, livestock and poultry operations defined as CAFOs are required to have a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) by December 2006.  For those that choose to develop a CNMP, which in most cases will satisfy the NMP requirement, there will be an immediate need for an understanding of the Feed Management element of the CNMP.  Animal feed represents the largest import of nutrients onto farms, followed by commercial fertilizer.  Although many NRCS employees are trained in developing most components of a CNMP, they often have little or no educational background in feed management.  This project will develop, test, evaluate, and implement a National Feed Management Education Program and Assessment Tools.  The project will help NRCS staff and agricultural professionals increase their understanding of feed management techniques and technologies in order to be able to adequately assist producers as they develop CNMPs to comply with the CAFO rule.


Iowa Cattlemen's Association (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota)


Multi-State Vegetative Treatment System Technology Implementation

Federal and state agencies continue to be concerned with potential risks to water bodies from cattle feedlot runoff.  EPA’s revised CAFO regulations allow the use of alternative performance standards to control discharge from feedlots over 1,000 head.  EPA has established criteria stating that any alternative must be capable of providing equivalent performance to that achieved by a properly designed and operated 25-year, 24-hour discharge control system.  Research has shown that if properly constructed and managed, these alternative treatment technologies can achieve functional equivalency to total containment systems at less cost to the producer.  This project will expand on a pilot effort to design and evaluate the effectiveness of vegetative non-basin alternative feedlot technologies in six Midwestern states. 


Food Alliance (Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin)


Promoting Market Incentives for Conservation

Food Alliance is a national nonprofit organization that creates market incentives for adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.  The Food Alliance certification and eco-labeling program is based on standards for socially and environmentally responsible agricultural practices.  Farms and ranches that meet Food Alliance standards, as determined by third party inspections, are granted the right to use our eco-label (the second leading agricultural eco-label in the U.S. after “organic”) to distinguish their products in the marketplace.  The Food Alliance program is unique in that it is the only sustainable agriculture label that has specific criteria for conservation of soil, water, range and wildlife habitat.  Growing market demand for certified products is a strong complement to federal incentives such as those provided by NRCS.  The purpose of this project is to enroll over 130 producers in five states in Food Alliance’s innovative eco-labeling program.  An additional 30,000 producers will be engaged through a comprehensive outreach effort.


Missouri & Mississippi Divide RC&D (Iowa, North Dakota, Oregon, Wisconsin)


Innovating Conservation Outreach to Those Who Do Not Operate the Agricultural Land They Own

Sociological research and demographic data confirm that the American farming community is less and less a homogenous group of full-time family farmers and more and more a heterogeneous group composed of large, corporate farmers, part-time farmers, farm managers and absentee landowners.  Special implementation strategies may be needed to achieve higher levels of conservation practice adoption among these non-traditional groups.  These specialized approaches may be particularly relevant as conservation agencies focus their assistance on areas with the most critical resource problems where it may be necessary to work with a variety of client groups.  In early 2005, the M&M Divide RC&D piloted an effort to demonstrate and evaluate an innovative approach to contacting and educating out-of-state landowners owning land in Carroll County, Iowa.  Initial indications of the project’s success are excellent.  This project will expanding the pilot effort to eight additional counties, while testing and evaluating additional innovative approaches for engaging absentee landowners in agricultural conservation.


Missouri Department of Conservation (Missouri, Nebraska)


Evaluation of a Grazing System for Maintaining Grassland Integrity and Improving Upland Bird Habitat

North American tallgrass prairie ecosystems have been reduced to less than 2% of their original area.  Periodic disturbances are vital to native grassland management.  Fire, an important process maintaining grasslands in the past is prescribed in many grasslands.  However, fire alone is not consistent with historical disturbance regimes.  Practices utilizing grazing and fire create a mosaic of habitat types and may more closely resemble historical disturbance patterns.  This project will demonstrate and evaluate vegetative structure and composition of tallgrass prairie flora and wildlife resulting from the use of patch burn grazing (PBG).  Under this management scheme, one-third of each pasture will be burned annually.  The intensity of grazing and resulting habitat structure will shift among patches through time as different patches are burned and previously grazed patches recover.  The predicted advantages of PBG are: 1) vegetation structure and composition will differ among patches within a pasture; 2) the habitat mosaic created by the fire-grazing interaction will support more diverse plant and wildlife populations; and 3) PBG will prove economically competitive with traditional cool-season systems for raising beef cattle.  PBG does not require internal cross fences or intensive supplemental feeding, but should yield competitive weight gains.  PBG will be demonstrated at 5 Missouri and 2 Nebraska sites monitoring variables including floristic quality, vegetation structure, cattle activity patterns, economic benefits, and avian community responses.


Alphabetical Listing of Awards by State


Universal Entech, LLC (Arizona)


CAFO Water Conservation Commercial Demonstration Utilizing an Innovative Algal "Waste Nutrient" Filtration System

Effective water conservation practices are a growing concern in the US, especially in the arid West and Southwest regions that are experiencing high population growth and intense demands on water supplies.  Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are large water consumers and are under increasing pressure to develop best management practices (BMPs) that address water conservation measures.  Many BMPs for agricultural producers, specifically CAFOs, simultaneously address water conservation along with water quality.  Facultative lagoons and land application are standard nutrient management methods used by CAFOs, but these methods are suspected sources of nitrate contamination of ground and surface waters.  Aeration, anaerobic digestions and constructed wetlands are alternative treatment methods, but these techniques alone cannot remove sufficient nutrients to make treated wastewater reusable, and therefore advanced nutrient removal strategies are sought.  An innovative technology for nutrient management and water treatment is large-scale algae culture technology.  Integrating our innovative technology into CAFO comprehensive nutrient management plans and systems is based on photosynthetic microalgae using solar energy to rapidly uptake nitrogen and phosphorous (N and P), and in the process producing clean water for reuse.  This CAFO wastewater treatment and water recycling/conservation project is designed to showcase and transfer a proven, high-rate, algal filtration concept which requires minimal land space or manual supervision to treat and recycle high-strength CAFO wastewaters.


Willcox-San Simon NRCD (Arizona)


Application of Technology to Maximize Water Conservation on Cropland

The Willcox-San Simon Natural Resource Conservation District encompasses 2.1 million acres in northern Cochise and southern Graham Counties of Arizona.  The entire area is semi-arid with 80,000 acres of cropland (65,000 currently in production) that relies on deep underlying aquifers for irrigation.  Dramatic deepening of wells in the 1970’s, land subsidence and drying of the aquifer under the Kansas Settlement region of the District led to the abandonment of nearly 20,000 acres of cropland.  According to data supplied by the Arizona Department of Water Resources, water users are currently pumping at twice the rate of recharge.  In recent years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has helped producers install more efficient irrigation systems.  While over 90% of producers have installed more efficient systems, less than 10% of the producers in the District use monitoring technology and equipment to schedule irrigation and/or coordinate water application to crop needs.  Pump operation costs are at $200 per day during the growing season.  Many operators are trying various methods to cut costs but don’t have access to adequate information.  This results in under watering, over watering, applications that are not timed to meet the crop needs, and reduced yields.  With use of monitoring technology, water consumption could be cut by up to 45% without a sacrifice in yield.  The purpose of this project is to reduce water consumption by engaging producers to adopt irrigation monitoring and scheduling technology to complement their efficient irrigation systems.


Izon, Inc. (Arkansas)


Remote Irrigation Management to Reduce Runoff, Conserve Groundwater and Reduce Fuel Use

While restrictions on agricultural irrigation have begun to proliferate nationally, irrigated lands in the Lower Mississippi River Valley (LMRV) are increasing at the rate of 189,000 acres per year.  This increased use of groundwater is steadily depleting the aquifers underlying this region.  Addressing groundwater depletion in the LMRV and other similarly challenged areas around the country requires both increased use of surface waters (where possible) and increased irrigation efficiency.  Remote monitoring and control of irrigation can remove the labor and time constraints often associated with decreasing water use, water runoff, and fuel use.  The patent-pending Izon monitoring/control system mimics verification of roaming cell phones to send information to and from water sensors, pumps and producer’s mobile devices.  The purpose of this project is to demonstrate and encourage the widespread adoption of the Izon monitoring/control system to document benefits and increase awareness among producers.


University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff (Arkansas)


Demonstration of Level Basin Irrigation Technology

Level basin technology has the potential to reduce on-farm water uses for irrigation purposes by as much as 30%.  This technology has been implemented in certain regions across the nation, especially in the arid southwest, to produce many crops.  Level basin technology has been utilized in the rice production areas of eastern Arkansas for more than 40 years.  The utilization of this technology is growing in acceptance in Louisiana, primarily for the production of rice, and in Missouri, which has less rainfall.  Level basin technology has not been widely accepted in the East by farmers for the production of other crops, primarily soybeans, because of drainage concerns.  Farmers are concerned that level basins will not permit adequate drainage for crops such as soybeans, cotton, and milo.  The purpose of this project is to demonstrate and encourage the widespread adoption of level basin irrigation systems for soybean production.  We believe that, using level basin technology, producers in humid regions can achieve high yield soybean production while utilizing approximately 30% less water with a resulting reduction in energy savings through reduced pumping costs.


University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff (Arkansas)


Demonstration of Low Cost Drip Irrigation Systems for Limited Resource Farmers

Drip irrigation systems have proven to be an effective means of meeting crop water needs in a highly efficient manner.  These irrigation systems are commonly technically advanced and expensive, and in many instances require an investment in both capital and operational skill that is beyond many of our small scale, limited resource farmers.  Technical and informational assistance is commonly directed toward these larger, more complex systems with less attention paid to systems that work for small operators.  The purpose of this project is to demonstrate the installation and implementation of innovative irrigation systems that, while based on larger, complex drip irrigation systems, have a focused view toward implementation of features and components that can be utilized by small, limited resource producers. 


Propane Education and Research Council (California)


Introducing Innovative Alternate Fuel Technology at the Farm

The Propane Education & Research Council has partnered with the Western Placer Unified School District’s Lincoln High School, which operates a 280-acre farm and a 179-acre outdoor learning environment facility.  The school’s farming operation is critical to implementing the school’s curriculum, and is used by several hundred students each year.  The purpose of this project is to provide Lincoln High School’s farming operation with a lower-emitting propane irrigation engine, an organic propane-fueled steam weed control device, and an intelligent remotely-accessible moisture measurement and telemetry system to allow for real-time adjustments to irrigation pump operation.  Air quality benefits will be realized with the use of a lower-emitting pump engine; soil benefits will be realized by the routine operation of the thermal weed control system; and both water and energy conservation will be realized through the use of a “smart” ALV irrigation system.


Colorado Department of Agriculture (Colorado)


Implementation of a Multi-Species Weed Biological Control Program on Ute Mountain and Southern Ute Tribal Lands

Classical weed biological control has been shown to be an effective, safe and inexpensive method for the control of exotic, invasive weeds.  The Colorado Department of Agriculture Insectary has been at the forefront of a number of weed biological control projects.  The Insectary currently has in culture, or in field insectaries, 24 arthropods used in weed biocontrol.  Among our target weeds are several species that are widespread and can have severe economical and environmental impacts.  Proven and effective biocontrol agents for control of these weeds are available at the Insectary.  A major challenge is to get the control agents out to the areas where they are needed and to monitor weed infestations to assure establishment of the agents and actual control of the weeds.  The purpose of this project is to use biocontrol to manage multi-species weed invasions on a large tract of tribal land.  The project will execute a novel multi-species control plan using proven biocontrol technology.  The outcome of this effort will be a template for future programs that target a number of weed pest species and bring together agencies and groups to control weeds on private and public lands.


Yuma Conservation District (Colorado)


The Republican River Basin's Pathway Project

Agriculture in the Republican River Basin is dependent on water pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer.  With withdrawals exceeding recharge, however, groundwater levels in the region have been in decline.  The Republican River Compact Settlement Agreement of 2002 has further compromised water resources in the region, targeting 4,000 wells in Colorado for potential shutoff.  This agreement comes on the heels of a multi-year drought, forcing producers and communities in the region to recognize that unless cropping systems are shifted away from high water-use crops, a way of life is destined to come to an end.  The situation requires an immediate and large-scale shift on multiple fronts, including strategies that enable producers to successfully innovate.  The purpose of this project is to engage producers in an innovative, comprehensive, regional strategy to reduce water consumption by moving operations from high water-use crops to lower water-use crops.     


World Wildlife Fund, Inc. (Florida)


Market-Based Program for Environmental Services on South Florida Ranch Lands

Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, at the heart of the Everglades system, suffers from excessive phosphorous (P) loads and unnatural lake levels due in part to rapid runoff from its surrounding watershed.  Agriculture is the dominant land use and a significant source of P in the watershed.  Ranchers in this region are under regulatory requirements to reduce P loading, although they are not required to aggressively manage water to retain P.  New approaches to managing runoff from this large area can help improve water quality and mediate water level changes in Lake Okeechobee.  The purpose of this program is to design, establish, and evaluate a market-based program on ranches in the Lake Okeechobee watershed to reduce P loads, improve wildlife habitat, and sequester carbon.  Results of the pilot will be used to design a scalable version of the program that could be used on a broader scale.


Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District (Georgia)


Flint River Irrigation Water and Crop Management Technology Integration Program

The lower portion of the Flint River Basin serves as one of the most agriculturally intensive areas in the state of Georgia.  Home to more than 5000 center pivot irrigation systems irrigating approximately 650,000 acres, the Flint River Basin’s ground and surface water resources are challenged to sustain economic yield without sacrificing the biodiversity of the Flint River and its tributaries. Changing weather patterns, droughts, and low market prices continually challenge farmers to produce high yields with less money.  Farmers cannot afford to risk economic stability by using less water unless they have some credible means to find that they already are applying sufficient water.  Faced with this irrigation scheduling battle, farmers in the Flint River Basin are in dire need of a system that takes the guesswork out of irrigation scheduling, and provides the validation needed to insure others that the water resources of the basin are being used in an efficient and effective manner.  The purpose of this project is to move real time soil moisture monitoring into the hands of the farmer to be used for irrigation scheduling. Less than 5% of farmers in Georgia are currently using some form of soil moisture monitoring, though it is thought to be the principle way to determine the effectiveness of irrigation application. This project will set up a telemetry network to transmit soil moisture data from the field to the Internet via a wireless network.  Farmers will have the ability to read irrigation scheduling reports, pivot location, and other crop management information from a handheld computer in the field


Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (Georgia)


Irrigation Management Technology for Water Conservation in Georgia

In Georgia, increases in population and agricultural irrigation over the past several decades have caused concern about the stresses placed on the water resources.  As a major consumer of water, agriculture producers in Georgia are feeling pressure to practice improved conservation.  Recent increases in fuel prices have also increased pressure on producers to irrigate more efficiently.  Irrigator Pro is a computerized irrigation scheduling system that uses scientific data to help farmers make decisions that improve their irrigation water management and increase water conservation.  The purpose of this project is to initiate the widespread adoption of Irrigator Pro technology for irrigation management for corn, cotton, and peanut production agriculture.  Successful implementation of this project will increase the agricultural community’s contribution to water conservation in Georgia and provide results transferable to agricultural producers throughout the Southeast.


Golden Triangle RC&D (Georgia)


Southwest Georgia Ichawaynochaway Watershed Cooperative Poultry Litter Composting Project

Georgia leads the nation in broiler production with 1.234 billion birds per year, and produces approximately 1.54 million tons of poultry broiler litter annually.  Poultry litter is commonly stored on the ground, uncovered and often on the edge of wetlands and sinkholes, where leaching of nitrates may occur, until it is spread on crop or pasture lands.  Give the litter concentration in the Southwest region of Georgia, there is high potential for nitrates from improperly stored and land applied poultry litter to leach into the underlying aquifer.  The soils in this region are generally saturated with phosphorous and other nutrients.  There is a considerable need to consolidate management of broiler litter in order to maximize environmental benefits, land availability, and economics.  By establishing a community or cooperative facility at which multiple local farms consolidate their manure handling into the production and sale of a marketable value-added product, many of the environmental and economic challenges that each producer encounters individually can be overcome by working collaboratively.  The purpose of this project is to engage 22 producers to cooperate in the development and use of a regional litter composting facility that would be the first of its kind in Georgia and in the Southeastern U.S. 


University of Georgia (Georgia)


Utilizing Solar Power as a Supplemental Power Source for Small Irrigation Needs

Solar powered irrigation exists primarily in the Western portions of the United States where daily solar radiation exposures are much greater than for the Eastern US, but more importantly there is a low concentration of power service available for irrigation pumps.  There is currently very little to no data available concerning solar powered pumps in states east of Arizona.  Recent advancements in solar technologies have provided better solar cells for producing solar electricity, better pumps to achieve required pumping pressures and better pumps to achieve sufficient gallons per hour.  These technological advancements mean that smaller producers in non-traditional solar regions of the country may now consider using solar power to pump captured runoff water using drip irrigation technology as a supplemental energy source.  The use of this innovative technology on small farms will increase the sustainability of a farming system by reducing the need and dependence on line electricity to pump deep well water while also using captured water for better water management.  This project will demonstrate that solar power can be a large supplemental and feasible energy source for irrigation in rural areas.  We will also demonstrate how soil moisture sensors can be used to conserve water through proper and timely irrigation. 


University of Guam (Guam)


Sustainable Conservation Innovation and Education for New Tropical Island Farms Through Inter-Agency Collaboration

The unique characteristics of island agriculture pose constraints on the implementation of nationally recommended conservation practices.  Efforts to address agricultural issues identified on Guam hold the potential of identifying solutions applicable to many other tropical islands.  Water storage, high livestock waste management costs and point source pollution, and damaging wind speeds have been identified as the issues where technological innovation is needed to address unique island environmental concerns.  The purpose of this project is to develop, test, and promote innovative practices that address these needs.  These practices will be developed and demonstrated on three multi-agency sponsored model farms across the island.  Supporting best management conservation practices will also be implemented and included in the educational programs of the project.


University of Hawaii @ Manoa (Hawaii)


Recycling Nutrients in Animal Waste Liquids Through Highly Productive Tropical Grasses

Animal production in Hawaii is threatened as never before.  There is a need to find win-win scenarios to wisely manage the waste products of animal production.  While animal waste concerns are prevalent throughout animal production systems in the continental U.S., the concern and intensity of the problem is greater in island environments of the Caribbean and Pacific Basins, where the coastline is nearly always hydrologically linked to lands used in animal production, and where impressively large amounts of precipitation can increase the potential for nutrient runoff and leaching.  The purpose of this project is to demonstrate and evaluate an effluent irrigation system in which highly productive tropical grasses utilize nutrients while producing large amounts of quality forage for livestock.  Small-scale testing has indicated success—this project will install the system on a larger, commercial scale.


Iowa Soybean Association (Iowa)


Outcomes Based Nitrogen Efficiency Project for Corn Production, Year 2

Nutrient enrichment in the Gulf of Mexico and nitrate contamination in drinking water and rural wells have focused attention and regulatory concern on losses of nitrogen from agricultural soils to tributary rivers.  These water quality issues can be addressed through more efficient application of nitrogen, which can provide agricultural producers with both environmental and economic benefits. With the help of a 2004 Conservation Innovation Grants award, several hundred Iowa producers have used remote sensing with replicated strip trials and/or guided stalk nitrate sampling to evaluate their own nitrogen (N) needs and new management approaches.  The majority have found they can maximize profit and reduce N losses to the environment by applying far less fertilizer and adopting different application strategies.  The purpose of this project is to expand on this effort in the following ways: 1) include new watersheds and types of fields in the nutrient management demonstration, 2) develop and test a model coordinating system for information pooling, analysis and reporting, and 3) train 120 potential Technical Service Providers to deliver the enhanced nutrient management practices.


Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association (Massachusetts)


Water Conservation/Irrigation Automation Evaluation Project

Successful cultivation of cranberries requires cool temperatures, sandy soils, and an abundant supply of fresh water.  The water is used to hydrate the cranberry vines and to protect the buds and berries against frost.  Water is moved into bogs through sprinkler systems or flooding practices.  Currently, irrigation of cranberry bogs must be done manually, which can result in excessive or insufficient irrigation, reducing yield.  The purpose of this project is to implement and evaluate an automated, internet-based system to increase irrigation efficiency and improve yields.


Conservation Resource Alliance (Michigan)


Northern Michigan WildLink--An Innovative Tribal Partnership for Regional Habitat Conservation

Northwest Michigan is home to a number of world-class coldwater rivers and vast forest and wetland resources.  Because the region is undergoing such tremendous growth, fragmentation and loss of ecological habitat are the topmost concerns of resource managers.  The proposed project is a joint initiative of the Conservation Resource Alliance, a regional resource conservation and development council in northern lower Michigan, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (one of 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan).  The primary project goal is to test and use the innovative “Wild Link” approach to deliver Farm Bill services to a broad base of customers.  Secondary goals are to restore and protect critical ecological corridors on a regional scale in rapidly developing northwest Michigan watersheds and to establish a model for integrating tribal interests and participation into both Wild Link and the USDA’s Farm Bill programs.


Heron Lake Watershed District (Minnesota)


Conservation Tillage Demonstration Project

The Heron Lake watershed encompasses parts of four counties and impacts a much larger environment by draining directly into the Des Moines River.  The Des Moines River flows through an intense agricultural environment and is included on the EPA 303(d) Impaired Waters List.  Preliminary results of an intensive diagnostic study reveal that the equivalent of 2,775 truckloads of sediment (58,000 tons) pass through Jackson, Minnesota each year - the southernmost site of the study.  Soil erosion from cropped agricultural land continues to be a significant source of sediment in surface waters, and also results in an irreversible loss in soil productivity.  Soil detachment and transport can be effectively reduced in row-crops by maintaining plant residue of the previous crop until the new crop canopy closes.  Residue is maintained by minimizing or localizing the aggressiveness and number of tillage operations.  Data shows that in 2004 only 45.8% of the producers in Jackson County, and 44.4% of the producers in Nobles County, used conservation tillage methods.  One new method of tillage, strip tillage, is a promising new technology that removes residue in the fall only from a narrow strip where the row will be planted in the spring.  This project will provide testing and evaluation of conservation tillage techniques in order to help persuade farmers that strip tillage will benefit their operations both economically and environmentally.


The Minnesota Project, Inc. (Minnesota)


Conservation Planning with Agribusiness Centers

Despite the extent of nonpoint source pollution reduction efforts on agricultural lands, many challenges remain to achieve the desired outcomes of improved water quality of our nation’s waters.  Reducing nonpoint source pollution has traditionally relied on structural practices, but efforts are increasingly focusing on cultural practices and management behaviors.  One limitation on the success of nonpoint reductions has been the shortage of trained technical staff to carry out the producer outreach, conservation planning, and practice design and implementation required to invest the available resources.  The purpose of this project is to test an innovative, market-based approach of incorporating conservation planning into producers’ cooperative agribusiness activities, including helping staff become certified Technical Service Providers.  We believe this new approach will accelerate producer adoption of conservation practices to reduce water pollution.


Mississippi Coastal Plains RC&D (Mississippi)


Strategic Cogongrass Control Partnership for South Mississippi

The invasive Cogongrass is having deleterious impacts on longleaf pine ecosystems in coastal Mississippi.  Longleaf pine, an ecosystem in decline through most of its range, is home to a number of federally listed endangered species, such as the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker.  Cogongrass can invade and overtake disturbed ecosystems, forming a dense mat of thatch and leaves that makes it nearly impossible for other plants to coexist.  Large infestations of cogongrass can also alter the normal fire regime of a fire-driven ecosystem by causing more frequent and intense fires that injure or destroy native plants.  This project is spearheaded by a unique partnership that will implement an innovative, comprehensive control plan for cogongrass  involving over 5,000 EQIP eligible producers in six counties in coastal Mississippi.


Drywall Recycling of Montana (Montana)


Demonstration of Benefits, Feasibility and Transferability of Recycled Drywall Gypsum as an Agricultural Soil Amendment

The construction of an average single family home generates nearly one ton of new, uncontaminated drywall waste.  The large amount of waste material is generally dumped into landfills, where moist anaerobic conditions stimulate bacterial reduction of drywall’s sulfate component into potentially harmful hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide gas in landfills.  An innovative solution that would diver drywall scrap from the waste stream is to recycle it for use as a natural soil amendment.  Gypsum is an excellent and proven natural fertilizer and soil amendment that can be found in drywall.  The purpose of this project is to develop, test, and promote the use of recycled drywall gypsum as an effective natural soil amendment, and demonstrate a model local recycling and use program.


World Wildlife Fund, Inc. (New Mexico)


On-Farm Water Measurement and Irrigation Efficiency Demonstration Project

Over the last forty years, the producers in Sierra and Dona Ana Counties in New Mexico have shifted their crop mix in response to market conditions and an above average water supply.  Cotton and other low water-use crops have been replaced by pecans, alfalfa and other high water-use crops.  Since the late 1990s, however, the region has experienced drought conditions, or what some scientists characterized as a return to “normal” conditions.  The drought coupled with the shift to high water-use crops has highlighted the need to maximize irrigation efficiency in agricultural production in the region.  Few producers are currently using any irrigation efficiency practices.  The purpose of this project is to demonstrate, evaluate, and encourage the adoption of innovative irrigation efficiency practices, including soil moisture monitoring.


Cornell University (New York)


Evaluating and Improving Vegetative Filter Areas for Agricultural Wastewater Treatment

Agricultural wastewater such as silage effluent, milkhouse wastewater, and other manure contaminated runoff is an environmental challenge for many livestock farms.  A common approach to managing livestock production area wastewater in New York is to collect and distribute it for treatment in a vegetated filter area (VFA).  Little is known, however, about the expected or actual reduction and fate of nutrients and other contaminants in wastewater treated by VFAs installed according to existing conservation practice standards.  The purpose of this project is to characterize the environmental effectiveness and improve VFA methods for treating livestock production area wastewater.  Hydrology information, water quality concerns, environmental engineering principles, and soil biochemical processes will be integrated to comprehensively evaluate VFA effectiveness, and the results used to improve the design and implementation procedures of the conservation practice standard for treating high concentration agricultural wastewater.


The Miami Conservancy District (Ohio)


Great Miami River Watershed Water Quality Credit Trading Program

Although tremendous improvements in surface water quality were made over the last three decades within the Great Miami River Watershed, over 40% of the rivers and streams still fail to meet Ohio’s water quality standards.  The remaining impairment originates primarily from nonpoint source pollution and includes nutrient enrichment, excess sediment, and altered habitat.  The Watershed is a significant source of nutrients to the Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico.  The purpose of this project is to implement a water quality trading program as an innovative approach to address these water quality challenges.  Interest in water quality credit trading in the Watershed grew from facilitated discussions which identified the common goals of producers and point source wastewater treatment plants.  An extensive economic and market analysis of the viability of a trading program in the Great Miami River Watershed indicated a potential savings of over $350 million for communities with nearly $40 million dollars of new money for investments in agricultural BMPs.


University of Rhode Island (Rhode Island)


Developing a Market for Nesting Bird Habitat on Active Farm Hayfields

Establishing community-based markets for wildlife habitat protection and other ecological services is a promising innovation, particularly at the urban-rural fringe where residents in or near rural communities value the quality of life provided by sustaining a farmed landscape that supports wildlife.  Non-farm residents are also often willing to pay to sustain the rural character of their communities.  This purpose of this project is to develop a market in which community residents pay farmers to adopt farming practices that enhance wildlife habitat services from fields currently in production.  Specifically, this project will create a market around grassland nesting birds, targeting bobolinks and hay production on Conanicut Island in Newport County, Rhode Island.  This coastal landscape is threatened by increasing residential and tourism development.  Bobolink nesting habitat is endangered by hayfield cutting.  The project will develop a new product that farmers can sell from hayfields to consumers willing to pay to improve nesting success of birds.


Classic Farms, LLC (South Dakota)


Mesophilic "Fixed Film" Anaerobic Digestion System to Treat Hog Manure

A number of different anaerobic digester technologies are currently in use on farms in the United States.  Despite a growing interest in the use of digesters for manure handling, however, there are no on-farm anaerobic digester systems in operation in South Dakota.  Further, there are currently no “fixed film” digester systems operating on working farms in the United States.  Fixed film digesters are uniquely different from the plug-flow, covered lagoon, and complete mix digester systems that are more commonly installed on farms.  The purpose of this project is to demonstrate and evaluate the use of an innovative “fixed film” anaerobic digester that provides economic and environmental benefits, improves manure management, provides a pathogen-free, high quality end product, and reduces odors. 


Texas Agriculture Experiment Station (Texas)


Ecological, Economic, and Social Dimensions of Using Summer Fire to Restore Ecosystems in the Southern Plains of the U.S.

The Southern Plains, which stretch from northern Oklahoma through Texas into Mexico, represent an important component of the regional economy in the southern USA.  Maintaining or restoring ecosystem health and resilience is a critical social imperative to ensure the future supply of the ecosystem services they supply, which are critical for the future well-being for human societies in the region.  However, fire suppression, overgrazing, ineffective brush control, and periodic drought have led to continuing conversion of open grasslands and savannas to woodlands dominated by honey mesquite and juniper species.  A key issue for cost-effectively restoring the health of the Southern Plains ecosystems is the reintroduction of periodic fires, including occasional hot summer burns.  Despite evidence of the ecological benefits resulting from summer fires, their use is not endorsed by NRCS and others under common summertime environmental conditions.  Reintroducing summer fires is also complicated by the fact that landscape-level ecological changes have interconnected environmental and human dimensions.  The purpose of this project is to assess the feasibility of restoring rangeland health in the Southern Plains using periodic summer fires.  The project will integrate ecological, economic, and social parameters in this assessment, which will result in recommendations on potential policy/practice changes to producers, NRCS, and other stakeholders


Yandow Farm (Vermont)


Soil Building, Water Conservation, Grazing Land Enhancement and Habitat Creation Within a Keyline Flood-Flow Irrigated Agro-Forestry Landscape

The Keyline irrigation and soil building system originated in Australia in the 1950s.  Keyline is a comprehensive land design and development system that combines large, on-farm dams and rapid, gravity powered flood irrigation.  Irrigation and subsoiling in conjunction with planned grazing of livestock yields rapid conversion of subsoil to topsoil, yielding attendant production and environmental benefits.  Due to local conservation concerns the owner of the Yandow Farm convened a planning team of farmers, environmentalists, political representatives, and state and federal personnel to assist in planning the design of a Keyline Flood-Flow irrigated landscape on the farm.  The purpose of this project is to construct and begin operation of a Keyline flood-flow irrigated agro-forestry landscape system, quantitatively measure the results of landscape implementation, and disseminate the resulting information and lessons into the larger agricultural and environmental conservation communities.


Northwest Natural Resource Group (Washington)


Northwest Certified Forestry

The Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG) advocates the market-based forest certification system developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international organization that recognizes landowners that adhere to a rigorous set of principles and criteria.  Due to the time consuming, costly and complicated certification process the NNRG has developed a Northwest Certified Forestry program.  This program follows the concept of “group certification,” whereby a group manager, who oversees the management practices of many individual forestlands, becomes certified and is able to extend certification to participating landowners.  FSC products are marketed as holding the highest degree of environmental quality and are positioned to capture “green” market premiums.  The purpose of this project is to implement a market-based system that promotes and rewards sustainable forest management practices and the promotion of environmental services on small forestlands in western Washington.


Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (Wisconsin)


Wisconsin's Dairy and Livestock Air Emission/Odor Project

In 2003, the State of Wisconsin adopted the Livestock Siting Law, enacted to facilitate the siting of new and expanding livestock facilities in Wisconsin.  Wisconsin has developed an initial odor standard as part of the administrative rule developed to implement the siting law.  Through public hearings held on the proposed rule, concerns have been raised about the odor standards.  In particular, questions have been raised about the relationship between odor and livestock-generated ambient air concentrations, especially for dairy operations.  These are significant issues in Wisconsin, particularly where land use is changing and residential development encroaches on agricultural operations.  There are currently about 15,250 dairy operations in Wisconsin and over 1.2 million dairy cows.  The livestock industry accounts for a majority of Wisconsin's $51.5 billion agricultural economy.  It is critical to Wisconsin’s dairy and livestock industry that producers implement best management practices to reduce odor, ambient air concentrations, and overall environmental impacts.  This project will attempt to make the connection between agricultural ambient air concentrations and odor and evaluate various best management practices installed on dairy and other livestock operations.  It will field test the odor standards developed as part of the administrative rule to implement Wisconsin's Livestock Siting Law, and evaluate changes between pre- and post-installation levels of ambient air concentrations and odors.


Lake DeSmet Conservation District (Wyoming)


A Community-based Approach to Applying Innovative Technologies for Monitoring and Restoring Sagebrush Habitats in Wyoming

In the second half of the 20th Century, greater sage grouse populations declined throughout their range.  Eleven western states are working to conserve sage grouse and their habitat.  Many conservation planning efforts have been initiated.  Despite the availability of voluminous quantities of research papers, conservation plans, and other documents concerning sage grouse, however, there are few examples of land management strategies that result in population recovery.  This project aims to test and evaluate on a broader scale a sage grouse management model devised and tested on the Deseret Ranch in northern Utah.  The 1.4 million acre Lake DeSmet Conservation District contains over 200,000 acres of sage grouse habitat according to a habitat suitability model produced by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  Forty-three percent of this land is privately owned.  This program will target producers within these habitats to develop innovative conservation technologies, practices, systems, procedures and approaches to conserve and restore sage grouse habitat.


University of Wyoming (Wyoming)


Solar and Wind Electric Powered Stock Water Pumping Initiative to Alleviate Drought Impact on Grazing Land

Wyoming is in the fifth year of a drought that has left most of the state in either an Extreme or Exceptional drought category.  Reduction in surface water flows cause livestock to find more resilient water sources including rivers and streams.  Damage to riparian areas and contamination of these water sources by livestock waste create significant environmental concerns.  The purpose of this project is to install and evaluate the use of solar and wind powered sock water pumps in remote grazing areas of Wyoming.  The common use of small diesel or propane engines to power remote electricity service lines creates noise and air pollution, and creates inefficiencies for a rancher’s grazing operation.  Using solar or wind powered water pumps is a time-saving and environmentally beneficial solution in remote grazing areas.  These technologies, however, have yet to gain widespread acceptance, due mainly to the newness of the technology and the initial cost of the pumping systems.