January 25, 2022

Regenerative ag initiative grants available

June 30 deadline

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The new Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative has launched its request for proposals to support research and demonstration projects involving both the University of Illinois and community partners.

Competitive grants will be awarded to interdisciplinary teams composed of a U of I researcher and farming or food system stakeholders who address key metrics of regenerative agriculture — soil health parameters, on-farm biodiversity, or community health and resilience.

Awards of up to $50,000 will be made for 12- to 24-month projects beginning Sept. 1. Funding will be awarded to U of I and non-university entities as appropriate. The application deadline is June 30.

The Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative began last fall with grant support from Fresh Taste and is overseen by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment, U of I Department of Crop Sciences, the College of ACES, and U of I Extension.

“IRAI was started with a generous donation from the Fresh Taste collaborative which has a mission to help improve the availability of fresh food to people in Illinois. But it’s so much more than that. What we aim to do in this initiative is to connect the University of Illinois research community with stakeholders in the surrounding area to improve agricultural outcomes for our land and our people,” said Emily Heaton, IRAI director.

“For example, maybe you are a researcher at the University of Illinois who is interested in cover crops. You want to understand how they improve water quality, but you don’t really know how that matters on a real farm.

“Maybe you’re a farmer who wants to know whether or not cover crops actually help improve your soil and water quality. Through the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative we can help connect you and help you guide a research project that gets improved outcomes for both the stakeholder, in this case, the farmer, and develop research capacity at the University of Illinois by training students and training faculty and staff to do work within the regenerative ag area.”

“Regenerative ag is tackling quite a few problems that we have right now within agriculture. Some of those are making a food system that’s resilient to climate change and improving soil and water quality. All of that connects back to the health of our communities and food security,” said Anya Knecht, Institute of Sustainability, Energy and Environment research program manager and IRAI associate director.

“The IRAI will make up to $50,000 available to teams that include a partner from the University of Illinois research community and at least one partner from the surrounding stakeholder community. It can be anything related broadly to regenerative agriculture. We just want you to tell us how it relates to regenerative agriculture and what impact you expect to see from the project,” Heaton added.

“We’re here to support you and connect you with these seed grants. We look forward to connecting our stakeholders and research community to improve regenerative ag outcomes across the state and our region.”

Outcome-Based

Adam Davis, head of the U of I Department of Crop Sciences, said when the program was launched that regenerative ag is about working towards transformative solutions by working together.

“Regenerative agriculture is an outcome-based approach to achieve improvements to soil quality, biodiversity, food security, and community and environmental health. There are other metrics that matter, but these are some core metrics of regenerative ag,” Davis said.

“An important thing to note is the outcome part. We’re no going to demonize certain practices or certain producers coming from a certain part of the spectrum. Rather, we are going to work together, provide on-ramps and opportunities to try to move the needed on these very important metrics, try stuff out and make measurements on it.”

Kim Kidwell, ACES dean, noted her enthusiasm about the projects and “bringing people together from all facets of the industry, from the farm, from academia, from our industry partnership to take on grand challenges together.”

“People care about other people. There is a deep sense of honor in trying to provide a safe and ample food supply for people,” she said. “I’ve never met a farmer that doesn’t care about the environment and the condition of his farm. I’ve never met a farmer who doesn’t have great concern about the next generation and what happens after them on their land. And I’ve also never met a farmer that wasn’t worried about the bottom line in economic viability.

“What I love about regenerative ag is it combines all those things together in a very meaningful way that help us drive to an end goal that can meet all the needs of folks in this industry in a meaningful way.”

Tom Doran

Tom Doran

Field Editor