MU gets USDA grant to help farmers build resilience to drought

Apr 4, 2013

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce that it will fund a University of Missouri project focused on building drought resiliency through soil health.  

Tim Reinbott of the Bradford Research and Extension Center is the researcher on the project. The MU funding is part of a set of Conservation Innovation Grants designed to spur research meant to help farmers and ranchers hit hard by drought. 

The mission of the Conservation Innovation Grant program, which was started in 2004 and is administered by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, is to generate and implement forward-looking ideas to improve land conservation. This year for the first time, $5.3 million was carved out of the $30 million the Natural Resources Conservation Service will allocate in grants this year to fund the study of soil health, irrigation efficiency, forage systems and water conservation. The drought-management grants are going to 12 universities and a group of 57 Native American tribes.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says these grants are a response to two bad years of weather – first flooding, then drought.

"It’s important for us to begin to figure out ways in which we can adapt to these more extreme weather conditions and specifically to drought since it’s been so widespread," he said. "And we’ve had some areas of the country that have suffered from it for a considerable period of time."

Through demonstrations and trainings, researchers from Colorado to Missouri will be required to teach farmers and ranchers what they've learned in terms of the best land management practices they could use during drought or flood.

"One of the nice things about this particular grant program is it’s not only going to be about technology but it's also going to be about requiring folks to do some outreach after they’ve figured out what works to make sure people get the word," said Vilsack.

Here's a short list of some of the projects being funded by these Conservation Innovation Grants:

University of Missouri: $263,000 for a project that will improve soil health through practices that will increase organic matter, such as the use of no-tillage, cover crops and crop rotations. Producers can submit soil samples that will be logged in an online database that will show the health of their soil. This project will enhance adoption of practices that increase the production system’s resilience to extreme weather by increasing water infiltration and a soil’s water holding capacity through improved soil health.

Colorado State University: $883,000 for a project that will demonstrate synergistic soil, crop and water management practices that adapt irrigated cropping systems in the central Great Plains to drought and lead to the efficient use of water. An existing model will be modified to allow farmers to calculate water savings from different conservation practices.

Intertribal Buffalo Council: $640,000 to evaluate how historical practices have aided tribes in dealing with drought. The tribal council will also use the funds to develop a database of best land management practices. This grant will support 57 tribes in 19 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming).

South Dakota State University: $713,000 to establish four grazing management demonstrations on South Dakota and Nebraska ranches. Producers can observe and demonstrate the impacts of innovative grazing management practices on their land’s ability to recover from drought through the use of rainout shelters.

Texas AgriLife Research: $233,000 to develop guidelines for managing irrigation under drought conditions and computer programs for linking weather stations with irrigation scheduling.

See a full list of the drought-adaptation grants awarded here.