September 26, 2023

The largest grant in the history of the university has been concluded through an agreement between the university of Idaho and the US Department of Agriculture.

The $55 million grant will help Idaho advance “climate-smart agriculture”.

Over the course of the five-year pilot project, more than half of the grant money will be sent directly to farmers as a means of encouraging them to use growing practices that are known to enhance soil health and store carbon. The remaining portion will be used for data gathering and reporting.

The USDA’s $3.1 billion “Climate-Smart Commodities” effort is one of the Biden Administration’s key plans to address the agriculture sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, which account for around 11% of the nation’s overall emissions. The award, which was announced by the University of Illinois last autumn, is a component of this plan.

141 pilot projects, including the one in Idaho, are being funded by the government program to assist farms in implementing environmentally friendly practices and to enhance market options, such as carbon markets, to reward producers who make these changes.

The University of Idaho initiative will provide 144 farms around the state that raise cattle, wheat, barley, potatoes, chickpeas, sugar, and hops with financial incentives and technical support. The farms will benefit from this support as they embrace techniques like no-till planting, rotational grazing, cover crops, and specific crop rotations.

For instance, cover crops are plants that are cultivated primarily to cover the soil rather than to be harvested. In between cycles of row crops like corn in Idaho, some farmers cultivate triticale or rye. Fields with exposed soil are more prone to erosion and water runoff. However, Idaho’s cover crop planting rate in 2017 was slightly lower than the national average, at just approximately 5% of farms.

According to Sanford Eigenbrode, a professor of entomology at the University of Illinois and the main investigator for the USDA program, farmers encounter obstacles when attempting such activities.

“That is, the knowledge barrier, the technological barrier, and the aversion to taking a risk,” he remarked.

Farmers may need some time to realize the financial and environmental advantages.

Partner groups will assist farmers in enrolling in the trial program, and they will also be in charge of providing farmers with the incentives. They consist of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Idaho Association of Soil Conservation Districts, the Nature Conservancy, and Desert Mountain Grassfed Beef.

With studies beginning as early as this autumn, the team hopes to get 70 farms on board in the first year and achieve a total of 144 by the second. If taken as a whole, that may indicate that the grant money covers more than 1% of Idaho’s agricultural land.

The funding request also included a target that at least a third of the producers, including female, Hispanic, and Native American farmers, would come from underprivileged neighborhoods.

Farmers that take part will get an annual payout of $60 per acre on average.

Erin Brooks, a professor of soil and water systems at the University of Iowa and the second main investigator on the project, stated, “I think this project would help motivate them.” “Let’s try it on my soils and see if I can add it to my cropping system,” the person said.

Measuring the emissions

Even though no-till farming and the use of cover crops have been shown to be beneficial for soil, it is less clear how these techniques, when compared to conventional farming, can assist reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The USDA’s Climate-Smart Commodities subsidies have their detractors, who claim it may be impossible to determine how much of the money invested actually improves the environment.

According to Brooks, “it is difficult to measure that we are storing the fluxes of carbon and greenhouse gases.”

He explained that as a result, monitoring and data gathering play a significant role in the University of Idaho pilot study.

The most regular and thorough soil testing will be conducted at three major University of Idaho extension offices as well as one location on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. Then, roughly 24 farms spread out across the state with a range of soil types will also host regular monitoring. The remaining farms will also periodically be examined and have their own soil samples taken.

The university experts predict that, based on prior study on the various activities being promoted, the pilot might result in an annual reduction of 60,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The results could improve farmers’ and educators’ understanding of the approaches that might be more effective for particular crops or regions of the state.

In order to determine how they might be able to sell their goods that contain components cultivated in cover cropping or no-till systems, the project team is also collaborating with significant businesses that obtain ingredients from Idaho, such as Anheuser-Busch, McCain Foods, and the Amalgamated Sugar Company.

Eigenbrode stated that he does not anticipate the five-year initiative to address all of the difficulties farmers have while applying new farming methods.

We want to start things off, he declared.

After the initiative is finished, it is hoped that farmers will go on practicing climate-smart agriculture on their own.


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