Iowa is involved in four of 33 Conservation Innovation Grants announced Tuesday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, said during the announcement that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is already doing a good job in instituting conservation projects.

“One of the critical components though for us maintain our edge in conservation is for us to continue to be innovative, and innovation will be key to managing the capacity to manage and adapt to climate changes,” Vilsack says. “It will be key for us to continue to learn and expand on our soil health campaign. It will be the foundation upon which our ecosystem market effort will be built. And it obviously is critically important to water quality.”

Vilsack highlighted one of the grants that involves Iowa. It’s for the multi-state Conservation Technology Information Center. “Which is really going to focus on providing information to expand on the benefits that cover crops can provide. The economic benefits to landowners, the environmental benefits that can accrue, as well as the crop production and ag management benefits that accrue from cover crop production,” Vilsack said.

Cover crops can be grasses or small grains that are planted between the primary crop production times to protect the soil. Researchers in Iowa will use the $482,000 given to the center along with fellow researchers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and South Dakota. “This award will basically fund roughly a thousand acres that will help us hopefully dispel some of the myths that may be in the countryside that have discourage producers from focusing on cover crop production,” according to Vilsack.

A companion project at the University of Tennessee will take a longer-term look at the impact of cover crops. Iowa State University received a grant of $485,850 to study different mixes of cover crops and how they can use up excess nitrogen in the soil. Iowa will also be involved in a Environmental Defense Fund project that won $992,000 grant to study how to decrease nutrients that run into the Mississippi River, the Western Lake Erie Basin and elsewhere.

The final Iowa project involves the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s effort to increase soil health practices among women who own farmland. Vilsack said each of the projects will provide valuable research.

“This is going to be important information that we’ll obtain from these innovative grant recipients. And will help to educate and assist us in the future in terms of conservation program,” Vilsack said. The innovation grants were created in the 2008 Farm Bill, and Vilsack said it is important that Congress take action to pass a new Farm Bill to ensure these types of programs continue.

Audio:  Conservation Innovation Grants conference call 30:00