Ag Policy Blog

Conservation Program, Cover-Crop Research Advance

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Conservation efforts in a new USDA program has drawn the interest of more than 5,000 groups through some 600 proposals in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, ahead of a July deadline to qualify for federal funding, according to a news release from USDA Monday.

Back in May USDA announced the availability of some $400 million in grants with a ceiling of $20 million per project, aimed at creating conservation partnerships between private companies, tribes, local communities and non-government partners. USDA announced the program as part of an effort to improve water quality and critical wildlife habitats with third parties or work directly with producers in watersheds and other conservation areas.

The RCPP is expected to competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

With participating partners investing USDA's $1.2 billion funding in the next five years can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation.

The RCPP has three funding pools that includes 35% of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas; 40% directed to regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process; 25% directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.

In May USDA announced the designation of several critical conservation areas that include the Great Lakes Region, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands and the Colorado River Basin.

"This program is an entirely new approach to conservation," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that's well beyond what the federal government could accomplish on its own. And we put our partners in the driver's seat, allowing them to find creative solutions to the conservation issues in their local areas. The overwhelming response to this new effort illustrates an eagerness across country to partner and invest in innovative conservation projects."

Also on the conservation front, agriculture specialists with University of Missouri Extension announced they are researching the viability of inter-seeding cover crops into corn and soybean fields. When it comes to planting cover crops producers typically have to wait until after fall harvest to lay seed, and experts say that often is not the optimum seeding window for cover crops.

Researchers are looking at a number of different delivery methods as well, including via airplane or high-clearance seeders to drop cover crop seeds, such as cereal rye grass or crimson clover, into the existing crop canopy at the optimum time.

Charlie Ellis, MU extension natural resources engineer, said in a news release that inter-seeding shouldn't cause a yield loss since existing crops are mature. He said some soybeans planted in 15-inch rows, however, may be knocked down, while 30-inch beans can be inter-seeded with little crop damage.

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