RCPP Grants Target Lower Emissions

Regional Conservation Grants Emphasize Emission Reductions, Including for Ethanol

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Practices such as no-till and growing cover crops will be funded under a project led by the American Coalition of Ethanol to demonstrate lower emissions for ethanol for low-carbon fuel standards. The project was one of 15 to receive USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants. (DTN file photo by Pamela Smith)

OMAHA (DTN) -- With increasing emphasis on farm practices that target greenhouse gas emissions, USDA on Friday announced nearly $75 million in grants for 15 projects under its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Among the grant recipients is the American Coalition for Ethanol, which will work in South Dakota to incentivize no-till farming, cover crops and nutrient management for famers supplying a farmer-owned ethanol facility. ACE is partnering with the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, Dakota Ethanol, South Dakota State University, Cultivating Conservation, and collaborator Sandia National Labs, and will receive $7.5 million for the project. The goal is to increase market access for low-carbon fuel standards based on the greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits from climate-smart conservation practices.

"USDA's investment in our project to validate the benefits of climate-smart practices in further reducing corn ethanol's carbon footprint is a vote of confidence in the role farmers can play in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050," said Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE. "Further, this project will provide a prototype for how clean fuel policies can reward farmers for climate-smart practices that reduce the overall carbon intensity of corn ethanol"

Pointing to President Joe Biden's goal of zero emissions from agriculture by 2050, Jennings added, "Ethanol can reach net-negative carbon intensity by crediting biofuel crops grown with climate-smart farming practices in clean fuel markets via carbon capture and sequestration and continued carbon reduction improvements at individual ethanol facilities."

ACE stated that using a GHG calculator, plugging in USDA data to compare emissions from cropping systems, the conservation changes converting to no-till would sequester an additional 91,000 metric tons (mt) of GHG emissions per year. That's comparable to removing 20,000 cars from the road. If those emission reductions are credited in California's Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS), that would generate more than $10 million a year in new revenue.

"The market premium we receive by selling our ethanol into the California LCFS program is a significant driver for making several process improvements to reduce our natural gas and electricity usage," said Scott Mundt, Dakota Ethanol CEO. "In addition to the gains we can make within the facility, properly structured clean fuel policies can incentivize significant GHG contributions from the farmers who supply our corn. Compensating the 500 farmers in Dakota Ethanol's grain shed to lower the carbon intensity of their corn production through adoption of climate-smart conservation practices would result in significant climate and economic benefits."

USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program provides grants to projects that bring together multiple groups in a particular area to focus on increased conservation practices. RCPP is listed as among the USDA conservation programs that would receive a funding boost if Congress passes the budget reconciliation bill. House Democrats released their plan for $28 billion in climate-smart agricultural practices, which includes a $4 billion funding increase for RCPP projects. https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Among other projects USDA announced on Friday:

-- The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation received $7.78 million for Great Plains Grasslands Conservation in South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Montana and Nebraska. The project will take more than $14 million to improve grassland restoration and grazing system management on 1 million acres. An estimated 350,000 acres will be enrolled in perpetual conservation easements as well.

-- Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will receive $8 million to work with partners to expand wetlands and development of other watershed projects with at least 500 farmers in a 35-county area of priority watersheds. The wetlands will focus on improving water quality, reducing emissions and increasing wildlife habitat.

-- Ohio State University and partners will receive $6.8 million to improve water-quality testing and work to reduce phosphorous concentrations in local bodies of water. The project will help the pilot watershed reach standards for the Great Lakes Water Quality levels for the first time.

-- The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and local partners will work in California's Shasta Valley to improve conditions for threatened salmon within the Shasta River, a tributary to the Klamath River. The project will also help improve the resilience for farmers facing extreme drought conditions in the region. That project was awarded $8 million.

-- Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will receive $5.3 million to increase afforestation and re-establish forestation goals by planting hardwoods and conifers in an area of about 16,400 acres in northern Michigan.

-- Illinois Department of Agriculture will work to establish a Climate-Smart Agricultural Champions program to help reduce emissions and improve water quality in watersheds that are part of the Mississippi River basin. That project received $1.4 million in funding.

A full list of the RCPP projects can be found at: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

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Chris Clayton