December 04, 2023

WIU proposal: Big interest in climate-smart projects

MACOMB, Ill. — The new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program has sparked a large response, drawing more than 450 proposals seeking $3 billion to $4 billion in grants.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture program earmarked $1 billion in the first funding pool for proposals ranging from $5 million to $100 million.

Funding will be provided to partners through the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation for pilot projects to provide incentives to producers and landowners to:

• Implement climate-smart production practices, activities and systems on working lands.

• Measure, quantify, monitor and verify the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with those practices.

• Develop markets and promote the resulting climate-smart commodities.

Funding awards for the first round of proposals is expected to be announced later this summer.

WIU Proposal

Western Illinois University’s School of Agriculture is among the hundreds of applicants hoping to receive a Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grant.

Win Phippen, WIU agriculture professor, outlined plans for the grant at the recent Illinois State University cover crops field day.

The two-part proposal, if approved by USDA, would focus on the Waverly Lake Watershed near Jacksonville.

Waverly Lake is a 107-acre recreational and water supply reservoir with average daily withdrawals of 180,000 to 230,000 gallons and over 1,000 service connections. The watershed encompasses 10 square miles and has 4,600 tillable acres.

The first part of the proposal is five-year incentive-based to encourage farmers and landowners in the watershed to grow cover crops.

“We’re trying to take a producer who is conventional corn and soybeans along with conventional tillage and get them to start thinking about the idea of growing cover crops,” Phippen said.

The basic incentive of $50 per acre will be provided for those in the watershed using a cover crop of their choice. An additional $25 per acre will be paid for farmers using a hybrid cereal rye or CoverCress as a cover crop, according to the proposal.

A first-year one-time incentive of $25 per acre will also be provided for those planting hybrid cereal rye or CoverCress cover crops.

“It’s an incentive program to modify your equipment to deal with a harvestable cover crop. CoverCress seed is quite small. Rye is a different shape than we’re used to,” Phippen said.

Monitoring Benefits

The other portion of the grant application proposal centers on research monitoring greenhouse gas, carbon sequestration, soil health, water quality and pollination health.

“We’re going to find a bunch of farmers to see what their practices are. We’re going to monitor their ground for soil quality, soil health and water quality. Then we’re going to ask them to grow these cover crops for five years and then we’re going to come back and monitor soil quality, soil health and water quality again to see if it’s improved,” Phippen noted.

The initiative’s intent is to include 50% of the watershed acres in the program.

“Right now there are very little conservation methods being used in that district. It’s a water source for the town. It has some phosphorous issues. It has runoff issues. We really think we can be able to demonstrate the impact of cover crops on this watershed,” Phippen continued.

“So, we’re going to be putting out a lot of environmental sensing equipment such as flux towers to monitor greenhouse gases. We’re taking a lot of soil samples and doing a lot of aerial imagery. We’re doing all this to see if we can quantify the benefits of growing cover crops.”

If WIU is awarded the grant, coordinators will immediately be seeking participants.

Beyond Incentives

Although the program would be five years, Phippen hopes the practices continue on.

“Our intention isn’t to get growers hooked on the financial incentives and then when the money runs out they’re done with cover crops and leave. We want to make it at least to the point where we’ve changed your mind. We’ve got you to adapt to cover crops and it’s at least a part of your production systems from there on out,” he said.

“We have to show that whatever we do is sustainable and that it’s scalable. The hope is whatever this program does that it will be scalable to the rest of the United States’ production area. We also have to show that it has long-term viability.”

Funding for this grant will be released Aug. 1, and if WIU’s proposal is approved, they’ll need to hit the ground running.

“We need to start working with producers almost immediately because we need to get all their background information before we start growing. We’re not growing any cover crops this first fall,” Phippen said.

“We need to identify our producers, get all of the environmental equipment in place, let the farmers keep on doing what they were doing, get all the background information and then in the fall of 2023 the cover crop will be planted and we start monitoring the environmental impact.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor